It began with a movie screening in downtown Toronto and quickly spread across North America and around the world — or, at least, the world wide web.

No, this is not a story about bed bugs infesting Scotiabank Theatre. That never happened, according to Cineplex Entertainment, which owns the theatre and had it inspected Monday night.

Rather, it’s a story about a rumour, spawned from an online suggestion of a nasty bed bug infestation.

It proliferated into numerous reports on blogs and newspaper sites and through the mystical machinations of Web 2.0, the mere idea of creepy crawlies has threatened to hijack the Toronto International Film Festival and one of its most important venues.

“It begins as something on Twitter and the next thing you know, you’re talking to someone from the Toronto Star,” mused Bob Reid, a crisis communications expert and media strategist with Veritas Communications.

On Aug. 24, local music writer Helen Spitzer saw a film at the Scotiabank Theatre. Later that night, she awoke with itchy spots on her back, bottom and thighs.

A friend of Spitzer’s posted a Twitter message saying “Torontonian Friend got, yes, bedbugs at the Scotiabank” and news of the supposed infestation quickly spread to various outlets in Canada and the United States.