In yesterday’s edition of the Daily Dose, we examined recent scandals involving major news agencies and inaccurate representations of photos and stories that mostly dealt with the war in Iraq and conflicts in the Middle East. Whether the result of an underlying media bias or simply sensationalized reporting in an effort to raise traffic and ratings, the errors involving widely read reporting draw the trustworthiness of the news media into question. And although bloggers have been largely credited with exposing the inaccuracies, even they have received scrutiny for high-profile web-based stories that have been found to be untrue—or, at the very least, subject to their own bias.
One recent example of Web 2.0 content (a board term describing mostly unfiltered, user-submitted content such as a blog) causing a stir was a YouTube video, which showed up under the “News and Politics” section of the site, that appeared to depict UFOs flying over Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Just hours after they were uploaded, the herky-jerky videos (which looked as if they were shot with a home video recorder) shot to the site’s “Most Viewed” page and garnered hundreds of thousands of hits. And though some comments suggested that footage was fake, many message board users marveled at the clips, even calling them “the best UFO videos ever.”
It’s been a few weeks since the tropical UFO clips first showed up, and this week, an L.A. Times reporter seems to have solved the mystery behind them by tracking down the videos’ creator. After several days of research, the reporter was contacted by a professional 3-D motion graphics artist who said he uploaded the fake clips as a “sociological experiment.” The results of the “experiment” were overwhelming, with millions of users watching the videos, some claiming they were actual proof of extraterrestrial life.
But what happens when bloggers misuse the medium for things other than just elaborate hoaxes?
Earlier this summer, before the release of Apple’s iPhone, tech blogs were in a race to be the first to report the latest detail about the highly anticipated gadget before it hit the market. Just weeks before the release, tech blog Engadget erroneously posted a report that the product was being delayed and was being held by Apple from June until October. Within just minutes, the news sparked a frenzy on the Internet, and Apple stock fell more than three points. That’s more than 2 percent of the stock value, equating to millions of dollars. Just 20 minutes later, after some frantic P.R. moves by Apple, Engadget posted a correction that acknowledged the post was based on bad information. The stock fully recovered. But unlike the UFO YouTube clips, the overzealous bloggers at Engadget showed that real-world damage can be done through the blogosphere, and bloggers wield a unique power.
Much of the appeal of the Web 2.0 revolution derives from the power that rests in the hands of people (or at least the tech-savvy ones) who can post videos, pictures and written thoughts for the world to see. But in some cases, bloggers’ greatest asset—the ability to have a voice, despite their level of creditability—has also served as their major point of criticism. And though some have even made drastic suggestions, such as some form of watchdog accountability (like the FCC), it is unlikely, and probably best, that the blogosphere remains the megaphone of the masses, because in the end, the only ones really responsible for discerning the truth in a user-submitted world are the users.