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Be careful what you tweet

The New York Times/International Herald Tribune had a story on Sunday headlined Source Sought for False Story on French Bank. I haven't checked with Reuters. One could say “Be careful what you tweet”. Here is the story, in part:

PARIS - Misunderstandings between the French and visiting British vacationers are a traditional feature of summers in France. But did a British malentendu over another French summer staple - a fictional series of articles in Le Monde - contribute to a mysterious sell-off in French bank stocks last week?

The series, “End of the Line for the Euro”, looked at how a collapse of the single currency might play out, against the backdrop of French presidential elections next year. While the 12-part story was clearly labeled as fiction, it named real banks, like Société Générale, whose shares plunged 15 percent last Wednesday, prompting the bank to deny speculation that it was in financial trouble.

As market participants and journalists searched for possible reasons, the trail seemed to lead to London. There, The Mail on Sunday, a tabloid newspaper, had published an article in which it said Société Générale was “on the brink of disaster.” Société Générale and an Italian bank, UniCredit, were in a “perilous” state, the paper added, citing “a senior government source.”

Last Tuesday, two days after the report appeared, The Mail retracted it, writing, “We now accept that this was not true and we unreservedly apologise to Société Générale for any embarrassment caused.”

Readers of the fictional “End of the Line for the Euro” noticed that Société Générale and UniCredit were both named in the same passage in the series, in an imaginary conversation involving the hedge fund manager John Paulson, where he says that US regulators have been raising concerns about the liquidity of the two banks.

But on Wednesday, a journalist at the Reuters news agency, Natalie Huet, speculated about a possibility of a link between the tale in Le Monde and the story in The Mail on Sunday.

“The rumor of a collapse of SocGen could have come from a misreading of the summer series in Le Monde by The Daily Mail,” she wrote on the blogging site Twitter, referring to the weekday sister publication of The Mail on Sunday.

Ms. Huet subsequently clarified that her comment was based on the “words of traders” and was merely intended to relay a “funny and not impossible hypothesis.” She also specified that she had been commenting in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the news agency. Ms. Huet did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Separately, Le Monde in its Saturday edition suggested that Huet had picked this up from reading another journalist's message posted in Reuters' internal messaging system and that her original tweet was widely picked up in Paris. It was then used by the French daily Liberation as well as being mentioned in the press review produced by the France-Inter radio station. ■