Who’s to Blame for Spreading False Information?


As soon as I saw the URL, I knew The Wired story was fake*. Since I’ve been harping about accountability , news source reliability, retraction, responsibility, question all sources — regardless of it’s trusted journalists and or publications lately, I thought this would be a good chance for me to prove my point: Think before repeating or spreading information.

Turns out, this was the biggest mistake I made.
My original plan was after posting, let the conversation go a little, before asking questions. Am I at fault? What if the news was something that wasn’t clearly fake? Would you be quick to point the finger at me? Or would you blame the news source?

…that was my plan.

Well I messed up because I spread it on both FriendFeed and Twitter – I should’ve just stuck to posting on FriendFeed. Then Sean started a few threads, stating I was spreading false information. So while I started putting out the fire that I started, the moment was lost and I couldn’t go back to my original thread to prove my point. Massive FAIL.

That said, I will ask this question again:
Should I be held accountable for spreading false information? Would you have still questioned the story even if it wasn’t blatantly false? With the speed of information spreading, do you plan on sharing differently?

And a new question stemmed from all of this: Do most people read beyond headlines?

*Proof = I sent the tip to my friend over at Giz, who published it right away as well as my comment immediately following: look at the URL.


5 thoughts on “Who’s to Blame for Spreading False Information?

  1. The best solution is to ignore the rumors. People have very short attention spans, and usually can’t be bothered to look at one more page or URL. Saying some other news is fake often leads new people to find the bad news.

  2. FAKE! (j/k) I totally didn’t see it until after you had edited the title of the post. And as I loathe twitter, I didn’t even hear about it on there.

    I don’t blame you…I blame society. :P

  3. I don’t hate you or something like that.

    But I think the spreader of false-information should also be held responsible.

    You see, false information is totally similar to the email hoaxes that we all receive from time to time, hate vehemently, and then we will be spending some of our precious time pointing people to Snopes.

    What you do, sir, is (IMO) very similar.

  4. I’ve been following you on FriendFeed (though I missed this apparently) and I decided to stop by and browse your blog and noticed this article. It’s a strange coincidence because I’ve been thinking a lot about hoaxes and fake news lately, my girlfriend took a class where the goal was to create and spread a hoax and we were recently debating about it.

    The hoax was a made up (but well researched) story about the last American pirate and when it was recently revealed (after having been picked up by a number of pretty big blogs) there were some very pissed people who talked a lot about trust networks and hoaxes and our inability to do research beyond Wikipedia in general. (Her professor’s post is here: http://edwired.org/?p=418 )

    The whole art of reporting is based around the fact that no one reads past the first few paragraphs (heck, there’s a 50% chance you’ve already stopped reading :P ), if even that. It’s something I’ve learned uncomfortably well since I got pulled into journalism while working on websites. This is the whole point of the inverted pyramid and is thanks to pure lack of attention on the part of most newspaper readers.

    Interestingly, UK newspapers don’t always use the inverted pyramid and they seem to be doing far better than US papers. Perhaps the Associated Press isn’t the end-all huh?

    Rachael (my g/f) was worried about the very same issue as you (her post on it is here: http://fourpointreport.com/blog/?p=117 ) and a little guilty.

    Considering the way things work with the speed of sharing news through social media, I tend to feel that it is every person for themselves, you should treat every piece of information you get as if it is a possible fake and research the things that seem really out of this world, unlikely, or a likely target for tom-foolery. When I retweet something, I do so with the thought that everyone else will do the same. When I write about something (even if it is my own tweet about a story) on the other hand, I do my research.

    So, to answer your question: No, you shouldn’t be held accountable for spreading false information, but I expect you to feel very very guilty :P

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