Do Countless Internet Hoaxes Hurt Legitimate News?


Last week, a young American Olympian, Kate Hansen, took a short video claiming that there was a wolf in the hallway of her hotel in Sochi.

The next day, late night show host Jimmy Kimmel reported that it was a hoax, but not before several news agencies picked up and ran the story. Including his own network, that knew about the hoax ahead of time.

An ABC News executive tipped in advance about the Hansen hoax alerted some of the network’s shows to stay away from the story, but the word didn’t spread widely enough. A network website posted a story for an hour assuming the wandering wolf was real before it was taken down, said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider.

Because it was an off-the-record tip, ABC News didn’t feel it could report the story before Kimmel revealed it, and didn’t believe it had a responsibility to warn other news organizations that they could be disseminating false information, he said.

“The world is seeing these kinds of videos more and more, and every news organization has to do its own reporting and own vetting to decide whether or not they want to print, air or say something,” Schneider said.

He added: “It is a piece of comedy. We need to keep that in perspective.”

But Kelly McBride, a media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, said the episode says as much about the “bad actors” who spread falsehoods — meaning Kimmel — as it does about the media. The danger, McBride said, is that such incidents add to a growing public distrust of what they can believe in the news.

Welcome to the new world order. These stories grab our attention and what looks like proof of the bizarre or unusual gets us in the feelings. When we collectively find out we have been deceived, it becomes a gotcha moment. When the media perpetuates these stories, then it comes down to trust and the reality that Google is our pal for instant access, it also is pretty much forever.

Case in point:

The last time I checked, if an internet surfer went to Google, a popular and trusted search engine, and typed the words “Peyton Manning car accident,” the item that popped up at the top of the list was from The Guardian Express site, with a story proclaiming the star quarterback had been seriously injured while driving his BMW. The problem?

The story is 100 percent, absolutely false. Untrue. A hoax. But, on Tuesday, the twitter accounts of reliable sports journalists in Denver began rumbling with concerns from worried Broncos fan across the country.

Another case scenario is how The Onion has fooled major national and international news outlets countless times. The Onion is fantastic, but it has been a satire and fake news site for three decades.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed at the Kimmel stunt. It was funny, but it also goes deeper to expose a chasm in how news is being dispensed. In a period of time when we have access to so much information, I think it’s more important than ever that our news outlets check sources. Social media is awesome but it will never replace boots on the ground journalism.

Infotainment isn’t news, but you guys knew that already. Kimmel did his job, he’s a comedian but I truly believe this shtick will get very tiresome very soon.

ABC should have done it’s job too.



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