You might have heard today about a leak from a Microsoft insider detailing some juicy information on what Microsoft plans to do with their next Xbox console. You might have heard that instead of calling it the Xbox 720 or something equally absurd that Microsoft has decided to follow Apple’s methodology with the deceptively simple Xbox. And you might have even been elated to hear that this new system would be compatible with all current wireless hardware, feature touch and motion inputs, and be part of a larger family of new devices under the “X” label.
It was a lie.
An unidentified person, self-identified gamer sent out a series of emails to major video game outlets, each one detailing their fabricated position at Microsoft working on the next console. Done in an attempt to see just how easy it is to get rumors taken seriously by the gaming press, the anonymous poster expressed nothing but disdain for what they call ‘endless rumours and speculation citing “anonymous sources” or “insiders” with no evidence, no proof, no guarantee that they’ve been fact-checked or can be relied on.’
The same letter was sent to an unknown number of websites. Most publications ignored the note, but one of them bought the hoax, Pocket-Lint.com, and that was all it took. Other places began picking up the news quickly, including Yahoo, VG247, and Venturebeat. Does this discredit video games journalism if we can so easily be duped in the span of a single morning?
No, of course not, but let’s take a look at the entire situation and factors involved in this snafu to prepare ourselves for the next one. Because there will be a next one.
Good reporting sometimes goes wrong.
Leaks and rumors are part of the journalism game. Journalism requires going out to find information, discovering the truth about events or plans, and bringing back the most complete factual information you can muster. Everyone has a pretty clear image of a person in a trench coat, wearing a fedora with slip of paper labeled ‘PRESS’ in the band, following shady characters down dark alleys while scribbling in a notebook when they think of a journalist.
But that’s not what really happens anymore. The days of that 1920s guy (let’s be honest, you were thinking of a man most likely) slinking around looking for the scoop are pretty much gone. Nowadays, there’s a lot more looking up phone numbers and cross checking social networking websites to verify identities than shadowy meetings in parking garages and diners.
You check your sources, examine the facts, and make connections. But sometimes someone does pop out of the woodwork with information – a leak, coming to you to spill the beans. Certainly not common, but it does happen. No matter what they’re claiming, you check it out. Does it make sense based on what you already know and what you can find?
In this case, Mr. X-Surface didn’t create his (or her) story out of nowhere, but instead elaborated on already existing rumors. They took shaky information one step further. One PLAUSIBLE step further, that’s the key here.
The first website to take the bait admits this with a disclaimer at the end of their original article.
‘Naturally, when a tipster is anonymous, there is some degree of trepidation attached to believing what they say verbatim. However, considering the facts Pocket-lint has been given, and the lack of outlandish claims, everything our source says is plausible’
So they were tricked by a convincing lie. They’re only human, I’m sure we’ve all been trick before. Then again, we aren’t all journalists whom people trust to give them accurate information.
24 hour news is demanding.
Why do websites even report on rumors in the first place if they know that the information cannot be fully verified or jump the gun and report the story before their sources confirm?
It’s rather simple really. You’ll read it either way.
This is the great consequence of our media and technology growth. People have so much information flowing into them via computers, smartphones, televisions, and their friends that media companies need to have content every moment of the day. It’s the 24 hour news cycle and it moves at the speed of Twitter and Facebook now.
A story or rumor can explode across the world in just minutes, racking up hundreds of thousands of hits and big dollars for whoever can get the attention focused their way. Having the first story earns a news outlet a lot of that attention, and explains why so many others eagerly jump to re-report anything they miss out on.
Most stories are right. Usually, the information gets checked, companies contacted, quotes taken, etc., but the speedy nature of the business demands content now. Not in an hour and not when your email is returned, but now. So things fall through cracks and sometimes a false story reaches the front page.
But let us not forget the tantalizing ‘rumor’ label or who these stories entice. People like gossip. They like chatting with their friends and having interesting stuff to let fill their brains with excitement or wonder. People speculate all the time on everything: fashion lines, movie casting, band albums, game releases, Congressional legislation, celebrity lifestyles, and so on.
Speculating is easy and fun, and if it’s on something you’re really passionate about, even better. Hence why 2013 has already been filled to the guts with people talking about what Microsoft and Sony will do with their next consoles.
Posting that information fills those cracks in your content schedule in a pinch.
So what do we do?
Easy – be more conscientious devourers of media. It’s all we can do from the reader perspective.
Remember that a person wrote everything you read in newspapers and online. No one will always be infallible. No matter how hard they check their facts or how many times they cross-reference information, sometimes reporters get information wrong. It can be as simple as putting down the wrong name or title, or it can be as elaborate as the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend situation earlier this month.
So with that in mind, take an extra gulp of salt when you read anything that saying the report comes from rumors. That’s why journalists tell you that. They aren’t as comfortable with the facts as they would like to be and are trying to signal you to be on your guard. As the X-Surface hoax creator said, there’s no proof that anything you read was checked, no guarantee that they can be relied on. There’s nothing but your general assumption of truth.
That isn’t to excuse reporters from doing everything they can to be sure of the facts, but it should remind you to be careful.