Apple + Twitter = my a**

Rumors can spread like tumors on the Web. Mostly they've been benign, but malignant ones may soon be on their way

I love a good rumor as much as the next guy. But the notion of Apple buying Twitter for $700 million (or any price) isn't a good rumor. It isn't even a good April Fools' joke. And if by some apocalyptic event this deal actually transpires, I will eat my fedora with a heaping bowl of salsa picante.

The original source of this silliness appears to be Owen Thomas of Valleywag, aka the Perez Hilton of high tech, who cites "a source who's plugged into the Valley's deal scene and has been recruited by Apple for a senior position."

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Translation: He's unemployed and probably drinking his breakfast. And that "senior position" at Apple? It's actually a position at a retirement home, distributing apples to seniors. You know how bad those cell calls can get.

Owen, I  love ya babe. You are the Yoda of snark. But Seymour Hersh you are not.

If Valleywag had the story, though, TechCrunch certainly couldn't leave it alone. So Captain Crunch himself pens a short note both spreading the rumor and pooh-poohing it at the same time, while offering up this classic: "We would have passed on reporting this rumor at all, but other press is now picking it up."

Translation: We don't believe this story is true (and we'll believe practically anything). But we'd never let our ethical standards get in the way of a juicy story, especially when somebody else is beating us to it.

That's all it took for the rest of the blogo-newso-twitto-sphere to pick up on it, adding their own special seasonings to the mix. By the time the story got to Wired, the guy had already been hired: "...a senior employee at Apple told gossip blog Valleywag....".

Congrats, whoever you are. And by the way, if Saint Steve discovers your fondness for chatting up Valleywag, your career in Cupertino will be shorter than the life span of a mayfly.

Welcome to the wonderful world of unfiltered Web reporting. Accuracy? Feh. Finding sources who actually know what they're talking about -- or even multiple ones? Get real. It's all about speed.

And if you can't be the first to leap on a dubious story and report it, you'd better be the first to debunk the story, come up with a tasty portmanteau that captures it in a single word like "Twapple" or "Tweetintosh," or even rebunk the story, talking about how the notion isn't as utterly preposterous as it originally sounded.

(Or you can do what I'm doing and complain about how the digital media has blown the story out of proportion. Whatever works.)

What's wrong with this picture? Just about everything.

The Net has always been a festering source of bad information. The utterly sensible Harry McCracken picks out 12 other Apple rumors from the many that have swirled across the Interwebs over the past few years. But is it just me, or has it gotten much worse lately?

Take thousands of blogs written by untrained reporters, add pressure to publish 24/7, toss in a decreasing pool of professional journalists who feel compelled to keep up with the amateurs, and shake vigorously until nauseated. What you get is a recipe for spreading deliberate disinformation on a wide scale.

An Apple-Twitter acquisition rumor is just a bit of silliness that will disappear when something juicier comes along. Next time it could be something a lot worse. It's easy to imagine cybercrooks or agents from foreign governments using the Web to manipulate vast segments of the population. It wouldn't take much. One juicy rumor would be enough.

Maybe it's time to take a deep breath and reexamine our need to have news fed to us from a firehose 24/7. Meanwhile, some folks out there need to have their rumormongering licenses suspended, if not revoked.

What Net rumors have gotten under your skin? Post them below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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