posted by Thom Holwerda on Sat 4th Oct 2008 21:12 UTC
IconIf you're looking for a party, Wall Street probably isn't the place you're going to find one. And to make matters worse, there are apparently people out there who are wilfully trying to make the life of the people on Wall Street (and subsequently, the rest of the world) even harder. By making up fake stories. And publish them on CNN's Digg - iReport.com. Some individual had posted a fake report last Friday, claiming Steve Jobs had suffered from a heart attack and was rushed into the hospital. As a result, Apple's stock made a 10% nosedive.

iReport is pretty much like Digg. People only need an email address in order to post news, providing a soap box for us normal folk to get our news published. True to its tagline 'Unedited. Unfiltered. News.', this also means that there's no quality control, no fact checking, no nothing. And this can have disastrous results, as the Apple story shows us.

The story was first submitted to MacRumors.com, but the website's owner did some background checking, and quickly found out the story was a fake, and consequently didn't post it. The story also appeared on Digg, but didn't make the front page, and - as we know - on iReport. It was picked up by the respected Silicon Alley Insider, which simply said something along the lines of "There's a report that Steve Jobs might have had a heart attack, we're fact checking right now". Not too long after that, Apple denied the story, Silicon Alley Insider updated the item, stating it wasn't true. In the time between posting and updating, Apple's stock made a 10% drop, but quickly recovered after Apple made clear it wasn't true.

Instead of blaming this whole citizen journalism thing, MacRumors' Arnold Kim places the blame squarely at SAI, claiming it was their report that gave the story credibility. SAI's founder Henry Blodget disagrees, and wrote to CNet:

The Steve Jobs report was the lead story on a site operated by CNN. It was highly relevant to anyone who cares about Steve or Apple. [...] It was already getting notice when we heard about it. We never know how long it will take to confirm or reject information like that, and we knew our readers would want to evaluate it themselves. So we described exactly what the report was, said we didn't know whether it was true or not, and said we were investigating. Twenty minutes later we broke the news that the report was false.

CNet argues that SAI does deserve part of the blame for this little episode, but I have to disagree vehemently with that notion. SAI was crystal clear in its original story that this was a dubious, unconfirmed rumour, and that they were in the process of contacting Apple to confirm or deny the story. What more can be expected of an online news outlet? It's their job to bring the news - it's the reader's job to read properly, and not to jump to all sorts of wild conclusions in the process. The shooter is responsible for a shooting incident - not the gun shop.

OSNews isn't a website focused on reporting on something first, so we usually get the time to aggregate some interesting sources, confirm a story's credibility, and post or discard it according to that information. A website like SAI doesn't have that luxury, as they are more focussed on being the first. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, they can post a "placeholder" story with the first bits of information, wrapped in careful disclaimers, and then update the story as events unfold. This is one of the things that a lot of people like about online news outlets.

What have we learned from all this? First, Wall Street folk get their nickers in twists way too easily. Two, readers cannot read. Three, Digg and its clones are not reliable news sources. Let me just say that if any of these three are new to you, I'm interested in how you got this far on teh interwebs.

This leaves us with one question, a question that has been asked over and over again: how important is Steve Jobs to Apple? If such a fake report can make the company lose 10% of its market value, what would happen if His Steveness were to really be injured - or worse yet, killed - in an accident? Has the company been focussing on Steve Jobs too much? Is this the downside of having a rock star CEO?

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