Tag Archives: trust

If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating

Truth has never been an essential ingredient of viral content on the Internet. But in the stepped-up competition for readers, digital news sites are increasingly blurring the line between fact and fiction, and saying that it is all part of doing business in the rough-and-tumble world of online journalism.

Several recent stories rocketing around the web, picking up millions of views, turned out to be fake or embellished: a Twitter tale of a Thanksgiving feud on a plane, later described by the writer as a short story; a child’s letter to Santa that detailed an Amazon.com link in crayon, but was actually written by a grown-up comedian in 2011; and an essay on poverty that prompted $60,000 in donations until it was revealed by its author to be impressionistic rather than strictly factual.

Their creators describe them essentially as online performance art, never intended to be taken as fact. But to the media outlets that published them, they represented the lightning-in-a-bottle brew of emotion and entertainment that attracts readers and brings in lucrative advertising dollars.

When the tales turned out to be phony, the modest hand-wringing that ensued was accompanied by an admission that viral trumps verified — and that little will be done about it as long as the clicks keep coming. “You are seeing news organizations say, ‘If it is happening on the Internet that’s our beat,’ ” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. “The next step of figuring out whether it happened in real life is up to someone else.”

The difference seems to be that the news organizations that published the recent pieces — Gawker, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and Mashable among them — do not see invented viral tales as being completely at odds with the serious new content they publish alongside them. The Huffington Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, Gawker was among the first to report the cocaine use by Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, and BuzzFeed is building teams of investigative and foreign correspondents. Of course, websites like these are not the only news organizations to be seduced by stories that are too good to be true. In just the last month, CBS’s venerable “60 Minutes” had to apologize for taking too credulously the claims of a security agent about the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

via If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating – NYTimes.com.

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Fake Reviewers Get Zero Stars From New York Attorney General

No doubt most of you reading this post have looked at Yelp or Google+ Local to check the user reviews before you tried that fish store, bakery or even dentist. On occasion, you may have wondered if some of those reviews were too good to be true.

It turns out that some of them were.

New Yorks attorney general revealed the results of a yearlong investigation into the business of fake reviews. Eric T. Schneiderman announced Monday that 19 companies that engaged in the practice will stop and pay fines between $2,500 and $100,000, for a total of more than $350,000 in penalties.Schneiderman said his office used undercover agents. One agent, posing as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn, called up search engine optimization companies and asked for help in combating negative reviews on consumer websites. In many cases, the agent was told that they would write fake positive reviews for a fee.

via Fake Reviewers Get Zero Stars From New York Attorney General : All Tech Considered : NPR.

Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You – NYTimes.com

New York regulators will announce on Monday the most comprehensive crackdown to date on deceptive reviews on the Internet. Agreements have been reached with 19 companies to cease their misleading practices and pay a total of $350,000 in penalties.

The yearlong investigation encompassed companies that create fake reviews as well as the clients that buy them. Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo.

A phony review of a restaurant may lead to a bad meal, which is disappointing. But the investigation uncovered a wide range of services buying fake reviews that could do more permanent damage: dentists, lawyers, even an ultrasound clinic.

“What we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. “When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

via Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You – NYTimes.com.