Whether it’s deliberate or accidental, I’ve been reminded several times in the last few months that you can’t believe everything you read in the social news.
Those who do it on purpose seek the sensationalism needed to create Digg-able linkbait. This is by far the more atrocious sin, but many bloggers simply neglect to check their facts. Far too many people assume that because they see it on their social news site of choice, it must be true, so I stand up here as the voice of reason. Please check your facts! Stop the sensationalism!
Here I do not condemn the rumor sites that identify themselves as such (anything related to Apple), nor the fake sites that everyone knows are fake (Fake Steve Jobs anyone?), but rather the Diggs, the Slashdots, the Techmemes, the Reddits, and the Sphinns of the world.
I finally got sick of the magnitude of sin on Digg and canceled all RSS subscriptions from that site. For this reason, none of my examples come from Digg, but I can only imagine that it carried even worse headlines and summaries.
TSA Bans Batteries from Luggage on Airline Flights
A few recent examples: first there was the “fact” that starting Jan 1, 2008, you couldn’t take spare batteries for your devices on plains anymore Electronista reported this as Lithium Batteries to be Banned from Air Luggage; it also showed up on Slashdot as the slightly more accurate TSA Limits Lithium Batteries on Airplanes an accurate enough title, though the content of the article said otherwise. As it turns out there are some limitations, but they are not nearly as strict as we were first told. For the full story, check SafeTravel.dot.gov here and here.
RIAA Says that Ripping MP3s is Illegal
Then the RIAA said that ripping CDs to MP3 was illegal. Slashdot had it as RIAA Argues That MP3s from CDs are Unauthorized and Electronista picked it up as RIAA Claims CD Rips Are Piracy in Lawsuit. These are probably more forgivable since both were based on an article in the Washington Post. Later though, this article popped up on CNet that gave us the real story exposing Marc Fisher (Washington Post reporter) as a bit of a sensationalist himself.
I’ve got no love for the RIAA, but Mr. Fisher deliberately misinterpreted statements in the RIAA’s brief and refused to admit to having made a mistake (at least to my knowledge). What the RIAA actually said was that the unauthorized act was putting the MP3s in the Kazaa shared folder on his local network. Admittedly the RIAA is still venturing into unknown territory, but anyone can see the difference in the magnitude of the claims.
The part that really irks me, though, is that people continue to report it inaccuracies, even after they’ve been clarified and corrected. Just this afternoon on Slashdot, there’s a report that the EFF has come to Mr. Howell’s defense (defendant in the above RIAA case) and the Slashdot contributor clearly states “This is the same case in which the RIAA claimed that Mr. Howell’s MP3s, copied from his CDs, were themselves unlawful.” That claim was never made.
Cary Sherman (President of the RIAA) actually said “Not a single (legal) case has ever been brought (by the RIAA against someone for copying music for personal use). Not a single claim has ever been made.” Granted it’s worming around the issue of how the RIAA really feels about the topic, but it’s an official statement and, very strictly speaking, it’s true.
Can we put an end to the sensationalism and just report the news so that we can stop wasting our lives reading false news? I’ve really got better things to do with my time.