Evan Kessler Dot Com

The Home of the Brave

Hoaxes Highlight Real-Time Web Accountability Issues

Posted by evankessler on October 21, 2009

There are some days in which the real-time web proves its own absolute relevance by breaking news as it happens at almost the immediate moment of impact, as evidenced in the recent election struggles in Iran.  Then there are days like today; days when the act of receiving pertinent updates on pressing world affairs and other occurrences of note seems to be eclipsed by the power of speedy necessity and a certain immaturity that at times makes us yearn for the days when Newspapers took a long hard look at what news people needed to hear the following morning when they picked up their tabloid of choice along with their morning cup of Joe.

Today’s slate of trending topics hinged on stories of not one, but two notable demises.  The first, and obviously most important coming from the world of celebrity was that of Kanye West.  Now, anyone with a quarter of a brain who has weathered storms of internet hoaxes before was obviously aware of the thread of idiocy running through the Internet since late last evening, but nonetheless the rampant pollution of the real-time web trending topics with such nonsense can make it seem like one is trying to attain their daily fix by remaining adrift in a river of idiots swimming upstream against the most important or even interesting information.

It’s not clear why people want to make everyone think Kanye West is dead?  Maybe they don’t like his music, maybe they love Taylor Swift, but any attempt to prove so is just as malicious as a Kanye interruption of a teenage girl’s MTV Awards speech if not more so. While I’m not sure if this legally akin to libel, perpetuating a falsity on your own personal whim can’t be that far off. So how do we stop these ridiculous hoaxes that clog the flow of information? Do they become punishable offenses or does Twitter have to go the wikipedia direction and try to figure out some fact filter?  Or do we all just become so desensitized with heightened bullshit-o-meters that we turn off any unsupported facts we’re even the least bit cynical about?  This is a problem that must be addressed by the real-time web if it wants to maintain relevance.

This doesn’t just apply to Tweeters and those who ReTweet with frequency.  The immediacy of Real-Time has caused news organizations to compete before valid confirmation of news stories, which leads us to today’s second example of a notable demise and trending topic “Megrahi”.  Earlier in the day the UK’s Sky News reported that Libya’s recently returned Lockerbie Bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi had passed on, an event that possibly may have brought some comfort to the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103.  In an obvious attempt to scoop the world, the news was proudly displayed and quickly spread like wildfire on the Internet.  Unfortunately, we’ve since come to learn that the reports of Megrahi’s demise may or may not have been greatly exaggerated, as his lawyer has since denied his passing. It may be slightly off base to say that Sky News lack of fact checking on the matter is a direct result of being in direct competition with the ability of real-time web to break a story first or a network’s need to break a story first on the real-time web, nonetheless these gatekeepers and real-time conduits must always be aware that there is no next day correction column when things are happening in the now and that sometimes getting things correct should be of paramount importance over getting things out first before everyone starts believing something that isn’t true.

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