The Gordon Lightfoot hoax raises some interesting points for anyone who blogged about it. (And if you think I was the only person who linked to that Canwest report under the assumption that it was true; not so: I’m gullible but not uniquely gullible.) Many people who would never believe a mere Twitter rumour — those of us who, mistakenly, still believe that Jeff Goldblum is alive when he’s clearly not — believed a news report that was based on a Twitter rumour, simply because it was a “real” news report and said that someone had “confirmed” it.
That’s why the spread of the rumour can’t be blamed solely on that report. When I, as a blogger, choose to trust a report, then I’m making a judgment about whether it is a “credible” source, and that judgment gives me responsibility for what I choose to link to. Linking to that report is an implied judgment that, lacking knowledge of my own, some types of reports are more likely to be accurate than others. That turned out not to be true.
The existence of a bunch of blog posts linking to an inaccurate report, mine included, doesn’t strike me as the worst thing in the world; the alternative would be for no blogger ever to blog about anything until he or she can verify it independently, which would in effect turn blogging into the exact same thing as “regular” journalism. For the purpose of immediacy — and blogging depends on immediacy — you sort of have to be prepared to link to the “Dewey Defeats Truman” reports once in a while, and update them to correct the record. (In this case, however, Dewey did defeat Truman and all the subsequent reports were wrong. True story.) Part of the responsibility of blogging is to correct things as soon as possible once you know the original link was wrong.
But others have argued that it’s unfair for bloggers to blame Canwest for getting the story wrong, when every single blogger who linked to the Canwest story was doing the exact same thing: assuming a story was true, without getting independent confirmation or at least waiting for someone else to confirm it. And that’s a fair point. It does show, though, that the distinctions between a mere online rumour and a super-trustworthy report have broken down a little. After all, if TMZ had reported something like this, they’d probably have been right.