Pump-and-dump scams used to be relegated to spam and investment forums. Now they've gone major media. But this is hardly the only recent example of disinformation going viral thanks to the new Web-inspired mantra of "it's better to be early and wrong than late and right."
Take Hurricane Sandy. Twitter user @ComfortablySmug thought it would be amusing to tweet out false reports about the New York Stock Exchange flooding or Con Edison cutting off power all over Manhattan -- only to have his tweets repeated by scores of reporters and end up broadcast on CNN. After the fakes got discovered, the perpetrator Shashank Tripathi lost his job as campaign manager for a Republican Congressional candidate (who also lost). Tripathi is not so smug any more.
Or the twits across the pond who gleefully retweeted a BBC report naming a prominent Tory member of Parliament as a child molester -- only to learn later the story wasn't at all true. Now Lord McAlpine is threatening to sue those who retweeted the bogus story; under British libel laws he has an excellent chance of winning.
It happens even when the stories are blatantly fake. For example: The Onion just published a satirical story naming Kim Jong-Un as the "sexiest man alive for 2012." That piece of tomfoolery got picked up by Chinese newspapers and ran as a real story.
Will any of the reporters who fell for the PRWeb release lose their jobs? It's unlikely. Will this sort of thing happen more and more often? Sadly, that's a lot more likely.
Fake stories have become one of the biggest stories of 2012. And that's a real problem.
How do you deal with the disinformation epidemic, besides resolving to never believe anything you see on the Web? Post your solutions below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Scams and scares, brought to you by the fake news network," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.