Social media gets duped, just like old media

by Mathew on November 21, 2006 · 11 comments

Muhammad Saleem, a very perceptive blogger who is also a top submitter at Digg and Netscape, has written a post that looks at the problems with “socially-driven” news sites, using as an example a fake news story that someone submitted to Digg about Sony recalling 650,000 PlayStations. The story made it to the front page of the site in only a couple of hours, and stayed there until it was apparently removed. Muhammad sees this as another example of how many people don’t read stories.

fake news.gif

He’s right, of course. And there’s no question that the geek-heavy audience at Digg is likely to vote up stories like the PlayStation one regardless of whether it’s true or not — as appears to have happened in this case — just to take some shots at Sony. However, I’d like to point out that fake news routinely makes its way into newspapers and onto TV newscasts as well, and in those cases there are a heck of a lot more checks and balances in the system (theoretically at least) than there are at Digg.

In those cases, the fake news lingers in print and video — and in various databases — long after it has been shown to be wrong, which often gives rise to urban legends about people getting abducted so their organs can be removed, etc. At least in the Digg case, commenters on the story repeatedly pointed out how fake it was. That’s a service social media can offer that traditional media can’t (at least, not yet).


Muhammad and I have been having a discussion via IM about the fact that Digg appears to have removed the story, not just from the front page but from the site completely. He argues that this is wrong, and that Digg administrators should have removed it from the front page but left the story up and flagged it as inaccurate. As it is, it looks as though the site is trying to pretend that the incident never happened. Tony Hung says that by removing it, Digg is going against its stated principles as a social media site. What do you think?

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  • maggie fox

    Part of the promise of social media is the storage of institutional memory (something also often lacking in newsrooms, in my experience). Leaving the story up and flagging it as inaccurate allows Digg to remind and us to remember. By deleting it and “pretending it never happened” (which is not possible, and often results in more attention, rather than less) they remove the reference point and details – paving the way for the same thing to happen in the same way, with no learning, again, and again, and again…

  • Mathew Ingram

    I think you are probably right on that score, Maggie. I know that the Globe’s policy on corrections, for example, is to attach the correction to the story, so that it’s obvious what the mistake was and where, rather than correcting the story and pretending that it never happened. Thanks for the comment.

  • Ryan Coleman

    The “social momentum” has always been a concern for me with sites like Digg.

    Earlier in the year I had a problem with my Gmail account and did a blog post about it – at first I thought it was a bug.

    Of course the prospect of a Gmail bug got “Dugg” – 1 hour and 4,000 hits later (it hit the front page of digg in about 20 minutes) I realized what the issue was (It was not a bug but rather a – i think – stupid feature). By that time the damage was done though and there was no mechanism aside from my one vote to undig & bury the story to do anything about it. I edited the post to correct it and emailed digg admins but at that point all I could do was sit back and watch. It eventually got force buried by the admins but it’s still on the site. Even after the post was corrected & numerous comments were made saying it was incorrect it still kept getting dugg at a furious pace (almost 900 total) – people just didn’t seem to care or read it, they saw Gmail, Bug and Dugg it.

    (Heck it got slashdotted two days later even though it had been corrected for over 48 hours – so clearly they don’t even read the stories sometimes)

    I don’t know why they would have outright deleted the story though , doesn’t make any sense… unless Sony’s lawyers had a word about them. Those Diggs, even when buried still get found all the time (I still get 10-20 hits a week via that link)

  • Mathew Ingram

    A Gmail bug? That’s a great story! I just dug your post too :-)

    Seriously though, thanks for the comment, Ryan.

  • Rob Hyndman

    That organ thing was … an urban legend? D’Oh!

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