Fact Checking (My Ass)

Several years ago, Ken Layne famously warned the media that on the Internet, “we can fact-check your ass.” Sadly, many bloggers could use some fact-checking, too:

  • A few days ago Valleywag claimed that the recent 365 Main datacenter outage was due to a drunk employee – a claim they’ve since retracted.
  • Last week Robert Scoble posted erroneous statements about FeedBurner and the RSS Advisory Board. Robert soon updated his post to correct his misstatements about FeedBurner.
  • Read/WriteWeb’s recent claim that “Desktop RSS Readers are (Nearly) Dead” included incorrect assumptions about feed statistics, neglected to consider behind-the-firewall Enterprise customers who can’t use web-based RSS readers, and was based on a survey whose audience is far more likely to use a web-based reader to start with.
  • And of course, Engadget’s claim a few months back that Apple was delaying the next version of Mac OS X caused Apple stock to plunge. This claim, too, was later corrected.

Now, I should make it clear that I respect Scoble, Read/WriteWeb and Engadget – I list the posts above solely because they’re high-profile examples of poor fact-checking, not because I dislike these blogs. There are many more examples, and I’m sure I’ve made my share of mistakes, too. But when a blog with a large audience makes a false claim, the potential for harm is great enough that fact-checking should be more of a priority.

Many of us in the geekosphere have a low opinion of the “mainstream media,” but we bloggers suffer from the same faults that we saddle the MSM with. We shoot from the hip without checking our sources, do little research to back up our claims, create sensationalistic titles for our posts, and generally do everything that the MSM does to increase readership.

Now that blogs have clout, perhaps we should spend a little more time fact-checking our own asses before we post?

6 thoughts on “Fact Checking (My Ass)

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more on this Nick. I think time is coming very fast where bloggers who “report” the news had better start being a lot more responsible and quit using the excuse of “New Media”

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  2. I get the impression you’ve never done news professionally. I’m not entirely sure what additional fact checking we could have done at the time. It was a real email from within Apple, and I contacted my PR people at Apple on their personal cellphones to no avail. The story we had was solid — until we found out later the memo was from spoofed from someone inside the company. Most of my industry colleagues agreed in my shoes they’d have done the exact same thing as I did.

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  3. Ryan, let me first state for the record that I in no way intended this post to be a slight against Engadget. Engadget is by far one of the better tech blogs out there – it’s included in FeedDemon’s default subscriptions because I consider it a reputable source of tech news.
    But I actually do have some experience here. My degree is in journalism, and I worked in the newspaper business before entering the programming world.
    In this case, I don’t think Engadget did enough to verify the claims made by the (spoofed) email. My recollection of my days in journalism was that if a claim couldn’t be verified by an “authority” prior to publication, it at least needed to be confirmed by a second trusted source, and even then the article needed to state that the company “wasn’t returning requests to verify the information.” If these steps were indeed taken, they weren’t mentioned in your post.

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  4. Nick —
    First, thanks again for being on The Delphi Hour.
    On to your interesting post —
    I fear you’ve proven the point that you appear to have debunked. You yourself have participated in fact-checking these errors in blogs. That’s the power that Ken Layne was talking about. In the past people could — in editorials, the media, books, etc. — say things that were flat out wrong, but there was often no way to get the word out about these errors, and errors and outright lies could go on to become “true”.
    But now, blogs, can, well, “fact check their ass”. Scoble, ValleyWag, and Engadget were all caught and issued corrections. I agree that bloggers can shoot from the hip, but they’ll quickly be corrected and “slapped back down” buy, well, other bloggers like you. ;-)
    Nick

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