Earlier this week, Nate St. Pierre, a friend of mine, posted on his blog a story of how he came to discover that Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook in 1845. He tells a very elaborate story about his day and persuades the reader that he discovered something that could potentially make him enormously famous. (Spoiler: It is a hoax.)
Putting aside any historical facts, there were three surface red flags to me. 1) you cannot get from Wisconsin to Springfield, Illinois by lunch. 2) Why would the curator not have known about this already? 3) Who goes anywhere without their phone these days/why would you not go home to get it if you really found such a story?
So, I’ll be the first to admit it, I disregarded these flags (first mistake) and accepted the unlikely “facts” initially (and shared the story) because I trusted the source. (second mistake) I fully own the fact that I was wrong. It maddens me, not that I was gullible or that he fooled the Internet, but that I failed to question the data presented. Even worse than my amateur error, is that I wasn’t the only one who blindly took it to be true; even major news sources failed to fact check before spreading the story.
St. Pierre’s hoax went viral in under 3 hours. He got 16,000 Facebook likes and 104,463 Unique Pageviews on his site alone. Mashable and The Atlantic waited until after they did their homework to reveal that it was a hoax. However, other very reputable news organizations like CNN, Forbes Fark, Reddit, ycombinaton and more ran the piece blindly accepting it to be factually accurate. News outlets interviewed him and reporters were sent to Springfield for a story that didn’t exist. What kills me is that REPUTABLE AND TRUSTED NEWS OUTLETS DIDN’T FACT CHECK. Isn’t that what interns are for? What other stories have we been exposed to, and believed, that weren’t true?
I was a journalism major and one of the things we learned was the importance of fact checking your data and questioning the credibility of your source. We learned the importance of ethical reporting. I am kicking myself for forgetting my obligation as an educated journalist and failing to question the story.
This was a classic study of the power of the Internet and how stories both true and false can spread like wildfire. I realize I am just as guilty but I’m just a nobody blogger. It’s not to say that I, a little unknown blogger, have the right to publish lies, but I am not held to the same credibility standard as say, Forbes.
In this day and age, where virtually everyone is a reporter, how do we know who to trust?
With the invention of the iPhone, camera phones, and the Internet, everyone has the ability to create and share and become a ‘reporter’. And thanks to the Internet, we expect to get our news updated instantly 24/7. Have we become too trusting and ultimately too lazy to fact check?
Are we in such a hurry to be the first to break a story that facts no longer matter? Has the news lost all credibility?
Nate wrote a brilliant story that was perfectly executed. I hope it serves as a lesson and reminder to us all to question the validity of the story and the source, no matter who it is and not to blindly accept the articles that we read in print or online.
Did you see Nate’s article and if so did you share it? Do you think the news has lost its credibility?