As tweets go, they don’t get much bigger. On Tuesday, messages from the account of BBC reporter Ahmen Khawaja appeared to portend bad news:
As news organizations began to jump on this breaking story, word came that it was all a mistake. The Queen, 89, was very much alive.
As the “news” of the Queen’s “death” spread, the BBC reporter hastily issued a tweet:
Currently, the only tweet in Khawaja’s Twitter feed referring to the alarm is this one:
False Alarm: Have deleted previous tweets!!
— Ahmen Khawaja (@AhmenKhawaja) June 3, 2015
Others quickly followed:
Affiliates, please disregard our previous tweet about Queen Elizabeth. It was sent in error. — CNN Newsource (@CNNNewsource) June 3, 2015
— The Independent (@Independent) June 3, 2015
There are two versions of what exactly happened. Perhaps it was a prank, and someone at the journalist’s home accessed her phone and tried to damage her career. Or, as the BBC says, it was a rogue error during a rehearsal for the Queen’s death: “During a technical rehearsal for an obituary, tweets were mistakenly sent from the account of a BBC journalist saying that a member of the royal family had been taken ill. The tweets were swiftly deleted and we apologize for any offence.” News organizations, especially broadcasters, regularly practise for how they will announce and cover the deaths of world leaders.
It’s needed. Although Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had been ailing for months, her death on Easter Saturday in 2002 caught CNN off-guard. While its announcers got the queen consort’s name correct, I couldn’t take my eye off the crawl at the bottom of the screen, which stated that it was Queen Elizabeth II who had died. Even the military components of such funerals aren’t left to chance. In 2002, Operation Tay Bridge swung into effect when the Queen Mother died. Her daughter’s is reportedly Operation London Bridge.
The timing of Khawaja’s tweets also helped to amp up the concern. Buckingham made this announcement to the media, including the Telegraph: “The Queen this morning attended her annual medical check-up at the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London. This was a routine, pre-scheduled appointment, the Queen has now left hospital.” And it comes a week after the Daily Mail talked of the “enormous strain” put on her during the opening of Parliament. There is one thing that is guaranteed:
Feeling very sorry for @AhmenKhawaja, who tweeted the Queen was dead. Regardless of how it happened, she must be having a VERY bad day.
— Valentine Low (@valentinelow) June 3, 2015