This morning a rumor about Steve Jobs having a heart attack started circulating. The person who started the rumor submitted it to MacRumors using an anonymous proxy IP address. I saw the report right when it was submitted and after some brief research dismissed it. The story was also posted to CNN’s iReport (citizen journalism site) and also appeared on Digg with a large number of diggs (but not yet on the front page). I tracked back and found the story was being promoted by a semi-coordinated effort by members of the 4chan message board.
So, I chose to ignore it, since we get fake rumor submissions daily.
Digg users also figured out that this was likely fake, and despite the concentrated efforts, the story was kept from appearing on the front page due to a corresponding number of Digg users burying the story. This is how it’s supposed to work. Most digg users are apparently knowledgeable enough to know that a post on a site like iReport is as legitimate as a random forum post… which is to say not that much.
But here’s where it got real. As best I can tell, Alley Insider — a site that I like and has a relatively large readership — posted the story as possibly true. Here’s an excerpt from their original report before they corrected it:
Apple’s Steve Jobs Rushed To ER After Heart Attack, Says CNN Citizen Journalist
“Citizen journalism” gets its first real test. A story of major consequence that, thus far, no one else has reported.
Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.
We’re making calls, but as yet we have no idea whether it’s true. Confirmation/denial the moment we get it.
Meanwhile, very interesting that this report appears on CNN’s site. If it proves correct, CNN will look great. If it is wrong, CNN’s credibility will likely be significantly damaged–and we wouldn’t be surprised if this caused them to pull back from “citizen journalism.”
From here it seems the story kept growing, and Apple PR even issued a denial. The story’s been picked up by numerous sites as a failure of citizen journalism.
It’s nothing of the sort.
Citizen journalism (which is a stupid term) works as it always has. People post random crap — much of which could be fake or made up — but you know this when you read a site like that. You know that digg submissions that make outrageous claims are likely self serving posts. You do not take these reports at face value.
But, if you run a prominent and influential site, the moment you publish something, you are giving it some credibility. You have filtered it from the mass of information on the internet as something worthy to post. You may not believe it, but just by posting it, you add credibility to it.
If you want to blame someone for dropping Apple’s stock price today, you can point fingers at the individuals on 4chan or the person that originally submitted it, but the real reason it gained traction is the reporting of it on mainstream blog sites.
I don’t expect everyone to adopt my personal approach to publishing, but those are my thoughts on today’s events.