Collaboration

When breaking news crashes: Don't believe everything you read


Engadget posted false informationLet's face it. We live in a day and age where everyone can potentially be a journalist if they have a computer and access to the Internet. Remember that old saying, "Don't believe everything that you see on TV"? Well, the same thing applies to other forms of media, especially the Internet, since the filter is not as fine. How do you know if information you read is legit? Well, for starters, you tend to build trust in certain sites -- and those are the places you either seek the news or verifiy news that you've read elsewhere. However, sometimes reputable news sources get duped, which is what happened to Engadget last week. Take a look at the story as presented by CNET Networks' News.com: "Welcome to the era of gullibility 2.0."

Here's the lowdown:

What's new:

Last week's fake iPhone news was a wakeup call for a public now fixated on the Web for scoops, leaks and gossip.

Bottom line:

The ultra-fast, competitive nature of online reporting and publishing is here to stay, and that means readers need to adapt and be aware of the circumstances.

For additional spins on this story, check out these news sources:

In my honest opinion, it's going to be increasingly difficult for online media to make sure all of the information that's disseminated over the Web is accurate, especially for news sites that thrive on "breaking" news.  In the ultimate rush to be one of the first sources to cover juicy tidbits, reliability takes the back seat. It isn't until a story crashes that this reality truly become clear.

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

16 comments
Dick Epler
Dick Epler

As C/Net?s article pointed out, both MSM (e.g., the NY Times) and the net?s bloggers can make mistakes, so who do you trust? In the final analysis, you trust neither if you really want accountability ? because ?in the final analysis? the only one you CAN trust is yourself. When President Reagan was asked if he trusted Nikita Khrushchev, he replied with ?trust but verify? and that?s still the best advice for anything important. Hopefully, you verify using primary sources, i.e., those closest to the action. Information from secondary sources must be discounted. By definition, news reporters, whether from MSM or the net can never be primary ? they are just reporters. As C/Net pointed out, today?s reporters can?t afford to double-check or verify facts. They?re primarily interested in increasing readership, and to do that they compete to find something that?s both ?new and true? with an ever DEcreasing emphasis on the true part. Today, most reporters simply write in a ?believable style? and occasionally succumb to stretching the truth a bit, which I think is what the first commenter was alluding to regarding global warming and CO2. Society has conditioned us to trust the experts. From an early age, we?re told ?don?t try this yourself? and to ?believe your teachers? even when such beliefs are contrary to those of your parents. We?re cautioned that only credentialed experts are believable. Well, over the years I?ve learned the first tactic is mostly marketing (a product of the guilds of Europe, and the Unions of America), and the second is primarily agenda driven. It would be better if we taught our children how to become experts at making mistakes because the reality is that if you do anything useful mistakes are unavoidable. The trick is to make mistakes that are easily corrected (and hopefully not too public) and to avoid making catastrophic mistakes. And yes, it?s a skill best learned in kindergarten (but again it?s never too late).

Prefbid II
Prefbid II

When evaluating news stories, you need to first ask yourself why you either do or don't believe a story. Does the story fit with your personal agenda? If so, that may be reason to be more skeptical than normal. Another thing to do is determine the fallout from suspending your own desire to believe what you see on the web. Why is it important to you to believe this at this time? Can you afford to wait and see what develops? I would guess that most of the time it would not matter to wait a few days to see how something turns out. Time has a way of exposing rumors and bad information as just that. The above two would go a long way in evaluating "late breaking news" but would do little for the well entrenched falsehoods. At some point, some made-up facts just become so well indoctrinated into the fabric of the web and society that they are hard to sift through. Man made global warming is just one of several topics that would be hard to determine the real truth from what the experts, news media or the web has to say about it. The answer you find is more about who is funding the "news" than it is about real data.

Dick Epler
Dick Epler

Not being much of an investment speculator, I would agree with the advice to ?wait and see.? The C/Net article, however, was primarily about speculator?s losing money based on Engadget?s ?breaking news.? To me, the result was predictable. I would argue that if you?re going to be a speculator, your welfare will be highly dependent on sources who can provide information before it?s widely available. Whether it?s reliable or not is a personal decision. One of the more famous such stories involves advance information of the Austrian Archduke?s assignation that precipitated WWI. My memory?s a little fuzzy on this (I wasn?t alive then) but I seem to remember reading that it was one of the Vanderbilt?s who made a lot of money by taking advantage of news no-one else was privy to. The Vanderbilts started Western Union and were instrumental in developing the stock-ticker used by the NYSE and so were in a position to access and use primary-source information rather quickly. Vanderbilt?s speculation, being based on market psychology, is similar to that described in the C/Net story. It depended on the inclination of people to panic. Maybe a lot of people lost money, but I?m betting there are a few made a lot of money ? which may have been the intended result of the leaked internal memo. After all, it?s so easy to do. Yes, it?s a criminal offense, but it?s nothing that hasn?t been done successfully many times ? because ?it?s just so easy to do.? Speaking for myself, I tend to appreciate the kind of speculation advocated by Andy Kessler, a technocrat turned hedge fund manager who made money by looking for things that scale and then evaluating prospects by using a lot of up-close-and-personal contact. There?s just no substitute for hard work. Lastly, I couldn?t agree more with the last global warming (GW) comment. To paraphrase: ?published GW research is more about the agenda of those funding the research than real science.? Real science requires independent verification of theory. That?s currently impossible with GW theory, a fact recognized by Vice President Gore, who now says it?s a moral issue. Translation? The Vice President is advocating massive tax increases on the premise he might be right. To convince you of the possibility, he funds research that uses computer models to generate various scenarios based on selected data, but there are NO USEFUL PREDICTIONS. The computer models can?t predict the weather for next week let alone 40 years in the future. What the models can do is to generate 4-color charts for USA-Today, and Power Point Presentations for use by various environmental organizations ? all for the purpose to condition the public to accept massive tax increases ? it?s for a good cause ? a moral issue, you know.

Snak
Snak

May I clarify a couple of things? Firstly, I actually made a mistake typing my reworking of the word 'hypothetically'. It should have read 'hypathetically' - as in hy-pathetic-ally, but must admit Dick's spelling is better as it makes the third 'pun' more obvious. Secondly, I may live in a country with (presently) a socialist government, but that does not make me a socialist, nor indeed does it make the country socialist. In fact the British Labour Party (socialists) have been the most liberal government we've ever had. And, despite NOT being a 'socialist' voter, I think possibly the best. Thirdly, I am naturally cynical and truly do not believe everything I read. The planet is warming and yes, it's possible that this is part of a natural cycle (New Scientist, my favourite mag, suggested last autumn (fall) that we're due another mini ice age if the ice record from Antarctica, related to the activity of the sun, is to be trusted). After all, it was warm enough in the 1100's for people to live outdoors in the UK all year round and cold enough to freeze the Thames 150 years ago. But for the first time in history, there are nearly 7 billion of us here, and we all need room to live, and energy to use and this of course means extensive farming space and electricity generation and (presently) the use of fossil fuels, pumping back into the atmosphere the CO2 that the fossils currently contain. If there were only a few million of us this would probably not be an issue. But any CO2 released into the atmosphere that is not 'natural', ie through the 'normal' cycles of the earth will of course add to that which is already there. Many people suggest that more trees will solve the problem, but it has recently been discovered that forests chuck out quite a lot of methane (if there had been no scare over GW, we would not have found this out, interestingly enough). It is not possible to argue whether humanity adds to the problem or not because by virtue of living, we can't not add to it. And we know the atmosphere of the planet can totally change due to the activity of the life on it because if it couldn't, there'd be no oxygen, and no us. My point was, is and always will be - IF it is possible to tip the balance in favour of not overheating the planet to destruction by altering our behaviour then alter it we should, regardless of who is going to be poorer for it. Because in the end, the very concept of 'money' is a human invention and, compared to the perceived value of humanity itself, is of no real importance whatsoever. If you were stuck on a desert island, would you rather have two sticks or a dollar bill? The very idea that people may consider their bank balance to be more important than the thousands of species due to go extinct in the next 40 years (about a quarter of the species currently on Earth) if the warming trend continues is, quite frankly, sick. The very first book of the bible says that God intended us to be caretakers of the planet. If I was God, I'd sack the lot of us. IF it's possible that the balance could be tipped towards human anihilation and IF we know that it's possible, I cannot think of anything more stupid than waiting to see if it happens before believing it. Prevention is better than cure - especially if it turns out there IS no cure. I don't think that Dick intended to be scornful of the 'we can't afford to be wrong' argument, but, let's face it, we can't.

Dick Epler
Dick Epler

I like Snak?s new word, but as a Yank, I would spell it a bit differently (why are the Brits always so weird?). The word ?hype-a-thetically? is, I believe, consistent with the theme of this blog and so my final post resurrects Sonja?s original title with an emphasis on the ?don?t believe everything you read? part. As anyone who?s read the Bible knows, end of the World scenarios have visited mankind on a regular basis since the beginning of recorded history. The modern spin, however, is different in the sense that we now use computers to legitimatize hype that appears to most to be as believable as anything else. Under the assumption that most won?t be able to distinguish the difference between junk-science and legitimate science (think ?the scientific method?), proponents of a particular scenario strive for a critical mass of reporters who will repeat ad-infinitum a one-sided litany of half-truths. Achieving such a critical mass in the MSM is easier if it plays on Western guilt about consumerism produced by America?s capitalistic society. And so Snak?s ?precautionary principle? was born as a driving force. Simply stated, the principle says ?we can?t afford to be wrong? and surprising enough, this principle has been codified into law to shut down a number of American industries over the years. I referring to logging, mining, fishing, nuclear, and fossil fuels. In the beginning, many of the regulations spawned by environmentalists were much needed. While they were just common sense, federal legislation helped speed and unify their adoption. Today, though most industry has taken advantage of legitimate science to make major strides in reduce pollution, the critical mass of reporters continues to hammer industry to where we are seeing numerous ?unintended consequences? that often increases pollution. If the timber industry can?t log, they sell their land to developers (who can log). Shutting down the nuclear industry required a shift to coal-fired power plants. There are others, but there is one intended consequence ? that of $4/gallon gasoline in the USA. The current rising cost of gasoline is not due to a shortage of oil, but to a shortage of American refineries. Because of onerous regulations, the industry hasn?t built a major refinery since 1976, so that now we import a significant portion of diesel and gasoline which gets taxed (tariffs) on both ends. It seems we?re exporting a significant portion of our wealth to terrorist nations. Though not a good thing for the USA, I suspect it would be something Snak would applaud. Question: Could Snak be right (per the precautionary principle)? Is the evidence for global warming ?so obviously true? that ?the world is about to come to an end and all humanity is about to become extinct?? My opinion: Yes to the former; No to the latter. We DO have evidence that the earth is warmer now than in the recent past. Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. Many say it can be a good thing primarily for boreal agriculture. On the other hand, many predict the coming of an ice age (again, because of global warming). But nobody really knows. All we know for certain is that global warming has happened in the past (think the Medieval Warming Period, circa 900 AD when Erik the Red discovered a green Greenland ? now covered with ice), and that ice ages have come and went as well. But hype sells. Consider these two news items from the mid-70s: ?The facts have emerged, in recent years and months, from research into past ice ages. They imply that the threat of a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery for mankind. (Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, in International Wildlife, July 1975)? ?The cooling has already killed thousands of people in poor nations ... If it continues, and no strong measures are taken to deal with it, the cooling will cause world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come about by the year 2000. (Lowe Ponte, The Cooling, 1976)? The scare didn?t take then so why now? Two reasons (in my opinion). First, we now have a critical mass of liberal media who have simply reworked news items from the 1970?s to substitute "the coldest weather recorded" with "the warmest weather recorded". They replace the icicles hanging from oranges in California with melting glaciers on Mt Everest, and the shivering armadillos with sweltering polar bears. Then we were going to freeze; now we are going to fry. Second is the driving force behind today?s effort which (no surprise) is money and power. We?ve created a new speculative market for emissions credits that essentially transfer significant wealth from productive enterprise to speculators (think George Soros); and have created a new massive government bureaucracy to manage it. Both contribute to a power shift to socialist ideals that adds nothing of value to the world (both are non-productive entities). I realize that these conclusions may be hard for a Brit from a socialist country (one that I love) to appreciate, but I suspect they will make sense to many of my countrymen who ?don?t believe everything they read.?

Snak
Snak

Let me get this straight. Hypthatically: Someone presents evidence (that is so obviously true) that the world is about to end and all humanity is about to become extinct. And all humanity can do is worry about what it will cost to stop it - and then refuse to do so on the grounds that they might lose money????? If this is the case, then humanity deserves to become extinct, and hope that evolution doesn't make the same mistake again, developing so-called 'intelligence'. And yes, I am aware of the correct spelling of 'Hypothetically'

Snak
Snak

Advocating a 'wait and see' policy for something like Global Warming is a bit ostrich-like. That is; burying your head in the sand. By the time you've 'waited and seen', you could be choking your last. There's absolutely NO doubt that the planet is warming and yes, it's possible that this is part of a natural cycle that will right itself. BUT (and here is the point) IF there is a chance that we are helping to tip the balance and IF cutting down our emissions MIGHT save us, then surely we should? On the off-chance? OK, so in a few hundred years when it all starts to cool down again and our descendants laugh at us for being so paranoid, it wont actually matter. What does matter to us is that IF the warming IS being helped by us and we DON'T do anything then there may be no descendents at all. You lot might want to risk that just so you can drive your big cars the 10 yards to your next door neighbours house for a BBQ, but how irresponsible is that? "I'm all right Jack, screw you" shouldn't apply to your own grand children for Chrissakes. --------------------------------------------- You may ask how this post belongs in the 'who do we believe?' thread as it is obviously a rant. It belongs here because one of the biggest issues being debated IS that of Global Warming - true or false? But it is interesting that one correspondent suggested secondary sources of information are unreliable - well the bible is entirely secondary-sourced. I DO believe that truth is sacrosanct and will ALWAYS come out in the end. When a lie is competently fabricated, this may take too long. Ask all those innocents hanged or electric-chaired due to this. I'm sure they'll agree. One thing I've found very useful in determining the truth is, stand back, stay cool and ask yourself: Does this make sense? The truth ALWAYS makes sense. And before I'm deluged with flames, I KNOW ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand - but how many people believed they do until the truth was known? And of course, bees cannot fly.....

Dick Epler
Dick Epler

Adhering to the original ?speculative investment? theme, I would argue that proposed GW legislation is more useful as an investment opportunity than as a fix to GW (which no one disagrees is a fact at this point in time). The question is always what legislation and how much it costs (we already know who will pay). The currently proposed solution to GW is to reduce our ?carbon footprint.? This has created a brand new market for carbon credits where you can calculate your footprint and then purchase sufficient carbon credits to offset the use of your limo, yacht and Gulfstream jet. Actually those who have those things tend to buy the necessary credits from energy companies they own (e.g., Vice President Gore setup a company that sells credits only to himself). The rest of us are allowed to plant trees. Actually, it?s not a ?brand new? market. It?s actually the same sort of market that brought Enron down. In the beginning, Enron (began in 1931 as a natural gas company) owned real assets, but then sometime in the booming stock market of ?90s, Enron transitioned into a trading company that traded all kinds of speculative derivatives including such exotic things as weather derivatives. Many of these things could be globally traded on-line. But then one day, President Clinton (or maybe Gore) created the ?green market? that involved buying/trading emissions credits from entities that met EPA regulations to those that didn?t. The opportunity was irresistible to Enron and they got involved in a big way. For awhile, it was great ? lots of free money driven primarily by government regulations. But then one day, the Kyoto Treaty was born and Enron bet on the US quickly ratifying the treaty and they became heavily leveraged on the prospect. But then one day, GW Bush was elected President, and he refused to sign the treaty. Enron couldn?t cover their debt (leverage is a tricky thing), so they (and Arthur Anderson Co.) used creative accounting to hide the problem while hiring more lobbyists? to pressure President Bush into signing. They were stalling for time. In retrospect, the accounting stuff Enron did in the dot-com era wasn?t particularly unique; they just did it in a bigger way. Their stock went from a high of $90 to a low of $0.30, during which Enron execs sold stock while preventing most others (e.g. teacher?s unions) from selling theirs (most stockholders were locked in ? a technique many company?s use to discourage volatility). Still, if President Bush would have signed the treaty, Enron would likely still be alive. In fact, they and their investors would likely be very rich. Essentially the effect would have been to transfer a great deal of wealth from our economy to the rest of the world, and Enron was uniquely positioned to get their fair share. Recall that Kyoto was forecasted to cost the U.S. economy (actually you and I) hundreds of billions of dollars. So the commenter is right: Global Warming is a big deal ? a big investment deal ? but one which could all go away with the stoke of a future President?s pen. Enacting legislating based on reducing CO2 is almost certainly a waste of money. Much better if we spent money researching testable GW causes. The computer models predict that if we started the elimination of all man-made CO2 now (not counting breathing), it would only reduce global temperatures by 0.2 degrees by 2050 (opinions vary). On the other hand, recent studies suggest that clear-cutting Canadian forests (and other boreal forests) has the potential to reduce temperatures by as much as 10 degrees by 2100 (again opinions vary). In so doing, the earth would wind up with a lot more CO2 (trees consume CO2 to produce O2), but it would be cooler. I?m all for doing all ?I? can to reduce mischief that could possibly contribute to GW, but I refuse to demand that Government legislate my behavior for all others ? unless of course, I can get a percentage of the resulting revenue stream.

sub_techrep
sub_techrep

For those of us who prefer facts to have, well, a good basis in fact, "news" sites need to be 100% correct in their reporting or else face the prospect of becoming irrelevant. When the choices are many, why would I want to waste time at a site which has developed a reputation for publishing stories that are incorrect when I can get the truth from another site which has a reputation for checking its facts before publication? That's the reliability factor. The easy way out, of course, is to prefix stories with "Rumour has it ..." and allow the reading public to make up their own minds. Perhaps that's the responsibility factor. If, however, something is reported as fact which turns out to be fiction, maybe being held accountable a couple of times will induce them to be more concerned with being the first to publish the truth rather than just being the first to publish. Finally, assuming that Sree Sreenivasan actually made the remark (and what proof do we have that he did?) I can't see how he can put a positive spin on this situation and deduce that "people's willingness to accept and believe the content of major blogs like Engadget is a sign that blogs are maturing into respected mainstream media"? What sort of "half-full" rubbish is that? People's willingness to accept and believe the content of major blogs like Engadget is a sign that some people have questionable judgment and are becoming reliant on a form of media which is inherently unreliable. How dumb is that?

Dick Epler
Dick Epler

I understand what you?re saying Sonja. Traditionally, most who work for a living don?t have the time to double-check sources so we?d like some assurance we can find a few good sources we can trust. The Internet both complicates the situation and provides a solution: though the net makes it easier to spawn illegitimate ?breaking news? (perhaps for personal profit), it also makes it easier to double?check sources. But first we all need to develop our own personal ?truth detector,? a skill best learned in kindergarten (but it?s never too late). We need a way to predict harsh reality even when society has conditioned us to believe. If it seems inconsistent with reality (like cold fusion) it probably is ? don?t bet the farm! When learning a new skill, I like to say (with tongue in cheek) ?the first ten years are always the hardest? but as always, one gets good at it in time. Money and investments, of course, is a special case where misrepresentations (shams) are the rule and so we probably need to do what Warren Buffet does: we don?t report or invest in anything we haven?t checked with insiders we know personally. Regarding using the net, it?s useful to build a personal network of people who think like you and are interested in the same things. A quick query often provides the answer in a time short enough to take appropriate action. Facebook is one such social networking utility that could be used.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Carbon dioxide drops like a rock.Fill a balloon with this gas.(bottle>baking soda>vinegar)When the mass mind has to truth sense instead of relying on the editor/fact process factions come into existence and there is chaos.The problem is that the facts or the definitives are inaccessible to most and experts have it that everybody on this Earth knows what they know.You think that they know what you know,but they don't!

neilb
neilb

The density of Nitrogen at 0 ?C, 1 atmosphere is 1.25 g/L. Oxygen under the same conditions is 1.43 g/L so all of the Oxygen in the atmosphere sinks to the bottom. Well, nearly the bottom because the carbon dioxide is at the bottom. Well, that's above the Argon, actually. Oh, it doesn't?

robtisdell
robtisdell

So ......... I don't get it. What are you saying......... ?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

BALTHOR, as usual, doesn't know what he's talking about.

Starrdaark
Starrdaark

I won't argue with the skepticism for human-introduced carbon bonded molecules as a major player in "global warming". However, your (BALTHOR) reference to the mass of CO2 as proof of this is irrelevant. Air is a mixture of molecules; CO2 is one of them. Fill the balloon with air instead.