God, I love the InterWebs. Years from now, scholars dissecting the complete disintegration of journalism in the 21st century will look back at us and say, what the frak? The example du jour: The Facebook Phone rumors, which were sparked this past weekend by TechCrunch and continue to burn.
If you believe what you read on the Web, Facebook is coming out with a phone. Unless of course it isn't. If you think about it, a Facebook phone makes absolutely perfect sense -- except for when it doesn't. Facebook denies the whole thing, which means of course it's lying. And a Facebook-centric phone would be cool, if you temporarily forget that Facebook apps are already on every smartphone known to mankind, and phones built around social networking have been on the market for over a year.
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No, the details of a Facebook-built phone are less interesting to me than how this story perfectly illustrates the 10-step lifecycle of a Net-borne rumor, circa 2010.
It goes something like this:
1. Facebook has a phone (TechCrunch). Never mind that the site offers no details, proof, or sources beyond some anonymous biped "who has knowledge of the project." All this meme requires are the words "Facebook phone" and we're off to the races.
2. Is Facebook building a phone? (Everyone else). Translation: We're not sure we actually believe this (we are talking about TechCrunch, after all), but if we don't run with this story, we're screwed, so we're covering our asses by phrasing it as a question replete with heavy doses of skepticism.
3. Fictitious features leaked. The next wave of bloggers provide the details the original report lacked. For example: The Facebook phone will run the Android operating system. Hey, it's a safe bet. What else would it run -- Apple's iOS? Symbian? Windows Mobile? The best part: It doesn't matter if they're wrong, because who's gonna go back and check?
4. Early photos of Facebook phone leaked. Regardless of whether the phone exists beyond the fevered imagination of some anonymous source, somebody somewhere will dig up pictures of the alleged handset -- or, even better, claim to have obtained one from a shadowy source.