Media, Silicon Valley

CNN’s Small Mistake, Apple Shareholders’ Big One

NY Times: Apple Denies ‘Citizen Journalist Report’. Apple’s stock took a brief roller coaster ride this morning after a CNN “citizen journalist” wrote that an “insider” reported that Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital with chest pains.

Aha! Those infernal citizen journalists are ruining the world!

Calm down. CNN got used. Maybe it was an innocent mistake. Quite possibly, however, this was the work of someone whose intention was to briefly torpedo the Apple share price. If so, there’s a high probability that this person will be caught and, one hopes, punished.

But it isn’t the first time something like this has happened. False reports have been posted to public-relations wires, including the famous Emulex case many years ago when a fraudster — who was caught and punished — pulled just this kind of stunt.

I don’t know too many details about CNN’s iReport internal systems, but I do know that CNN has been running this kind of risk for some time. The labeling of the site has never been, in my view, sufficiently careful to shout at readers that they should not take for granted that anything they see is necessarily true — or that readers who might make any kind of personal or financial decision based on what they see on the site are idiots.

This is precisely the same warning that should (but doesn’t) come with comment boards on major newspaper websites. But you have to believe that no one with a shred of common sense takes the random ranting below, say, a Washington Post article as anything terribly serious.

The “story” quickly moved to financial and tech blogs and traditional media, which probably compounded the damage by giving the report more play. I was on a plane while all this was happening, so all I’m seeing is updated coverage.

The shareholders who panicked are fools. Not the first time. Maybe when enough people get burned after believing things they should ignore, we’ll all recognize that we have to be skeptical of everything — but not equally skeptical of everything.

Media literacy is scarily far behind the curve in a digital-media-saturated world.