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Teen's tweet about home invader sparks Twitter alarm, then scorn

October 01, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • This screenshot shows the last tweet from Kara Alongi's Twitter account.
This screenshot shows the last tweet from Kara Alongi's Twitter account. (Twitter )

“There is somone in my hour ecall 911”

One tweet. One teenager named Kara Alongi, from Clark, N.J. 

And 34,000 retweets, thousands of phone calls to the police, and a missing-persons case that has the looks of a teenage runaway hoax gone viral.

The tweet came Sunday at 5:12 p.m. Eastern time, and Kara, 16, was still missing as of Monday evening. Social media blew itself up into a frenzy to save her, riding the hashtag #helpfindkara in pursuit of her abductor.

“a girl named kara got kidnapped tonight in my town. if you ALL could RT this, that'd be amazing!” tweeted @chomikk, prompting another 34,000 retweets.

But by Monday, Clark police said they had found a number of “inconsistencies” in her 36-character message.

Well, mostly just the one big inconsistency: that the whole thing looked like a big fake.

Someone called a cab to Kara’s house at the time she posted the message, and a cab driver told police he picked up someone who looked like Kara and dropped her off at the Rahway Train Station a few minutes later, police said.

The gripes came quickly. In a statement, Clark police said, “There have been a number of falsehoods and inaccuracies reported by the news media that have hampered efforts by law enforcement.”

On top of the police’s complaints, the Twittersphere quickly shifted gears from industrial-concern complex to its more familiar posture as a grinding rage machine, with Kara — who, once again, is 16, and is still missing — now the target of spite rather than concern.

“#helpfindkara a therapist what a psycho,” tweeted @C_Cappella.

“#HelpFindKara a shock collar,” tweeted @tygaahhh.

“#helpfindkara a decent mental hospital,” tweeted @24NYY.

 “As Nancy Grace has shown, the hashtag is perfect for conveying the essence of mindless true-crime stories,” wrote Adrian Chen at Gawker, in a stab at explaining what happens now.  “And the urge to action of #helpfindkara means you are basically a monster if you do not spam your friends with Kara's face. But now that she's activated the hive mind's Protect and Serve mode over a hoax, Kara is about to face the full brunt of that same digital mob's Seek and Destroy setting.”

Maybe just the “seek” option wouldn’t be so bad. Authorities say anybody who knows where Kara is can contact the Clark Police Department, call the Union County Crime Stoppers at 908-654-TIPS, www.uctip.org, or text UCTIP with a message to the number 274637.

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