The web is a-buzz with fallout from the latest high-profile hoax.
The story in question (now amended, here) concerned the conviction of a 13-year old Texan boy for stealing his dad’s credit card and using it to hire two prostitutes with which to play Play Station (awww!).
It was, according to its author, an experiment in linkbaiting.
Hell’s teeth – I know. Not another online buzzword to learn.
Well, personally I wouldn’t bother – there’s some debate about what linkbaiting actually is, and how it is practiced. The term is used in a range of contexts and used to describe a broad range of SEO trickery – it can be used both for good and for ill.
We can stick to ‘online hoaxing’ for now, I reckon.
So, to the modus operandi of the hoax – the duping (or should that be exploitation) of the social media.
The story was Dugg, achieving a stonking 2494 diggs to date, and front-page status in the process (so bang goes my argument that trust in social media is a useful alternative to ABCe ratings then!). The story also generated 214 ‘reviews’ in Stumbleupon to date.
But hang on there – these figures don’t shed light on how many Diggers/Stumblers were in on the joke, and how many took the story at face value.
The story was originally Dugg (and Stumbled) by the author of the hoax himself. Surely senior Diggers/Stumblers would have spotted this, had they come into contact with a professional, and relatively high-profile linkbaiter before?
Regardless – UK-based forums were also a-buzz. Some West Ham fans showed just why hammers aren’t the sharpest tool in the drawer. Which is a serious let down, as footy fans on 365.com have proven to be pretty adept at springing the odd hoax themselves in the past.
Other social networks showed some savvy though – thisisntexeter (‘irrelevant news and gossip that probably isn’t true’ – according to the Alt Text in the site’s banner) cottoned on early enough.
Proving that the mainstream media are just as prone to hoaxing as the rest of us, London’s favourite paper-based tube-seat cover Metro was duped, as was it’s pay-per-use competitor The Sun, and The Telegraph (now erased from the Telegraph’s archives AND not in the Internet Archive either – tut).
Wired failed to get an official response from Google in regard to what (if any) action they might take on publishers who exploit ‘linkbaiting’ in the form of hoaxing – (it’s not there now – did anyone spot the story in Google News at all?).
Some have rightly pointed out though that Google is hardly in a position to dish out punishment to sites who dabble in linkbaiting in any case, given their own history of hoaxing – see Google Tisp and PigeonRank (something the MSM are not averse to either).
If you want to see examples of other successful hoaxes in the UK media and how to avoid them as a journalist, here’s the lecture notes for something I wrote up late last year.