Last night a fake op-ed piece purporting to have been written by NY Times columnist (and former Executive Editor) Bill Keller was tweeted. The fake article discussed rumors of a “potential financial blockade against the New York Times by Visa, Mastercard, and American Express for hosting U.S. government cables published by WikiLeaks”.
The hoax was well done — the URL for the column looked vaguely authentic, the look of the NY Times was meticulously duplicated, and they even managed to fake Keller’s writing style and attitude. Or as Jon Schwarz put it “Whoever wrote the fake WikiLeaks op-ed did a great job imitating the way Bill Keller is both incredibly boring and incredibly irritating”.
But the most interesting part of this is Glenn Greenwald’s column today, defending the Internet from those who say that the hoax proves that information on the Internet is inherently unreliable. After all, the hoax was exposted in less than 12 hours:
That happened by virtue of all of the strengths which the Internet uniquely offers, and which traditional journalism precludes: collective analysis, using one’s readers (tens of thousands of people, if not more) to help with research and investigation, instant and mass collaboration with other journalists and experts, an open and transparent analytical and investigative process.
Greenwald points out that the mainstream media has a long and dismal history of either repeating — or even inventing — fake news.
But the part that really hit home to me was this:
The attribute of writing on the Internet that I’ve always valued most is that any errors I make — factual, logical or otherwise — will be very short-lived because they will be exposed by commenters, tweeters, emailers, etc., rather than days or weeks later (if at all) in the form of a Letter to the Editor that can be (and usually is) easily ignored. And this interactive process will also immediately bring to my attention facts and evidence that bolster what I’ve written but of which I was unaware. That’s why the first step I took when I had suspicions about the Keller column was to go and ask thousands of people about it using Twitter, knowing that other people would have knowledge that I lacked. This collaborative model enabled by the Internet strengthens every aspect of journalism and, as today’s episode shows, obliterates errors quickly and definitively.
That eloquently sums up why I love writing this blog. I really enjoy the fact that when I make mistakes, my readers are only too willing to point out my foibles. Or to add information I didn’t know about. Unlike traditional media, I get back as much as I put out.
So thank you, dear readers.