Fake Steve: Techmeme uber-troll

Due to a surfeit of Christmas parties, I missed much of the Fake Steve Jobs takedown frenzy, in which the writer — otherwise known as Daniel Lyons of Forbes — claimed in a series of posts that Apple was trying to shut down his blog. I realize it’s easy for me to claim that I saw through the whole thing, since it’s all over now, but I must admit that even when I saw the headlines I had a suspicion we were being played like a prize trout.

I’m not sure I would describe Fake Steve’s trolling for sympathy as “brilliant,” as my friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has, but it’s obvious Lyons knew he could get a huge amount of mileage out of such a rumour in the slow-news runup to Christmas. Fake Steve has continued to try and play the game, but his latest post — in which he describes an Apple lawyer offering him $500,000 to close the blog, and refers to his lawyer as Tony Clifton — is just too hard to believe.

First of all, there’s no way he would have been offered that much, and the addition of Tony Clifton as his lawyer is the capper, since that was the name of an alter ego character that comedian Andy Kaufman used. There’s a picture of Kaufman in the post too, getting beaten up by a female wrestler (some of his favourite gags involved wrestlers, including an infamous David Letterman appearance).

I’ll give Scoble some credit — he caught on fairly quickly, and so did Engadget, which pointed out that all the talk about Apple going after Lyons personally didn’t make much sense, considering he is employed by Forbes. Other skeptics included Steven Hodson of Winextra, as well as Shel Israel and to some extent ParisLemon. But it took others awhile to get the joke, including my friend Karoli and James Robertson (at least briefly).

A desperate cry for attention on Fake Steve’s part? I wonder. For awhile now I’ve been wondering how much longer FS could continue, now that everyone is in on the joke. Can a blog based on satire continue to work once everyone knows who’s behind it? I’m not sure. But when you have to resort to lashing out at the likes of yours truly — as FS did when I wrote my Think Secret post — maybe it’s time to turn out the lights.

Social media gets duped, just like old media

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).

Update:

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?