- Local TV station Now had already denied being source of claim before tweet from state-owned tabloid sparked media frenzy
- Tweet was later deleted – but international news media had already picked it up and stock market taken a hit
Rumours that the Hong Kong government would impose a weekend curfew swept the city and cyberspace on Tuesday fuelling tensions after five months of unrest.
The speculation began to spread quickly over the internet around noon time Thursday and some of the rumours claimed that the news came from the local broadcaster, Now TV. That prompted the network to issue a statement denying that it had carried such a report.
But the rumours continued to spread and drew even more interest when Global Times, a tabloid affiliated to People's Daily, published a post on its Twitter account repeating the rumour.
"#BREAKING: #HKSAR government is expected to announce curfew for weekend: sources," it read.
The item was immediately picked up by many major news outlets including Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg. They all cited the tweet by Global Times as the sources.
The "news" had an immediate effect on the already weak stock market, which fell further by about 100 points, or 0.4 per cent, after its publication, and only recovered after Global Times deleted the tweet. The Hang Seng Index closed Thursday at 26,323.69, down by 0.9 per cent
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, later wrote on Twitter that a reporter of the newspaper in Hong Kong reported the information.
"My conclusion is that the information is not sufficient to support this exclusive news," Hu wrote. "I have demanded to delete the tweet."
The rumour followed reports that senior officials of the Hong Kong government were summoned to the Government House for a late-night meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Wednesday to discuss the latest crisis.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told lawmakers on Thursday that the meeting was a normal one but had been held late at night just to fit the officials' busy schedules.
Early Thursday morning, another rumour circulating online said a US Air Force transport plane had landed in Hong Kong to evacuate American citizens.
It was denied by a US consulate general source who said the plane had nothing to do with the unrest in Hong Kong and its transit in the city was approved by Beijing.
"It is just for regular stuff, which was approved by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was not here to assist Americans depart or connected to ongoing issues here and in any way," the source said.
Hong Kong was in its fourth consecutive day of weekday protests, with transport links paralysed and road transports affected because of road blocks set up by protesters.
Protesters barricaded themselves on several university campuses after a particularly intense clash with police on Tuesday night.
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