Friday, May 15, 2009

Irish Student Dupes Media Via Wikipedia

This is interesting. According to news reports this week, an Irish student posted a phony quote in the bio of a freshly dead French composer on Wikipedia to see what would happen. Sure enough, before Wikipedia's crack team of editors flagged it as 'unattributed,' various news outlets had pulled the juicy quote and ran it in the composer's obituary. D'oh!

Per the AP story:

When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

The sociology major's made-up quote — which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer's death March 28 — flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.

They used the fabricated material, Fitzgerald said, even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia quickly caught the quote's lack of attribution and removed it, but not quickly enough to keep some journalists from cutting and pasting it first.

A full month went by and nobody noticed the editorial fraud.

Now, I am as eager to break news on this blog as anyone, but I am not a journalist and I'll post just about anything. But you'd think that journalists would have the wherewithal to verify their quotes. Seems like in the news-hungry instant-entertainment driven world we live in, I guess there is no time for little details like 'verifying sources.'

From the article:

"I am 100 percent convinced that if I hadn't come forward, that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said, instead of something I made up," Fitzgerald said. "It would have become another example where, once anything is printed enough times in the media without challenge, it becomes fact."

Scary. But it makes me further question these urban legend-esque stories I get sent to me by family members, or photos that are probably Photoshopped. There were photos going around of some guy punching a shark in the face that were probably fakes. But there are enough people dumb enough to fall into 'seeing is believing,' whether it's unlikely or not.

Viewers beware...

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