The actions of internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, no stranger to controversy, have sparked a debate about media credibility after his off-the-wall tweets about the Apple tablet were picked up by prominent online and offline media outlets.
Prior to the launch of the iPad, Calacanis tweeted that he had been "beta testing" the "Apple tablet" for two weeks and spilled the beans on his experience and the specs. From old media stalwarts like CNN and the Wall Street Journal to new media mavens like TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider, 'reporters' were quick to relay Calacanis' claims to their audiences.
Amongst those claims: Apple's new tablet would have solar panels, a personal video recorder, a fingerprint reader, an HDTV tuner, facial recognition and wireless charging. Taking the joke too far, Calacanis also threw in a claim that the iPad sported a custom version of the popular Facebook app Farmville which enabled a user to "shake the tablet to plant seeds then wobble it to spread water around".
Needless to say, Calacanis' claims were patently ridiculous. So ridiculous that they should have raised red flags for anyone who read them. Yet numerous online and offline outlets took the bait hook, line and sinker.
Sure, most of the posts/articles that were written pointed out that there was no way to verify Calacanis' claims, but that's sort of like writing an article about the invention of a time machine and including a disclaimer that person claiming to have tested it might not be telling the truth.
So what gives? One of the reasons some bought into Calacanis' claims: because they came from Calacanis, a well-known internet entrepreneur who has never sought attention (note: sarcasm). Some, like Henry Blodget, trusted what Calacanis tweeted because, in his words, "Flat-out making all this stuff up will backfire, and Jason is smart enough to know that."
Of course, as Loren Feldman has pointed out in his trademark NSFW style, the claims themselves were so totally absurd that any tech 'journalist' should have been skeptical. The implication: trust trumped due diligence. A possible scoop trumped accuracy. Gut reactions trumped common sense.
The interesting this is that this isn't a new media versus old media thing anymore. Over the years, plenty of criticisms have been lobbed at new media on issues ranging from accuracy to ethics. Many of them were lobbed by members of old media. But old media, struggling to stay relevant, has apparently bought into the 'if you can't beat them, join them' mentality and warmly embraced the 'report first, ask questions later' mantra that new media lives by in its quest for pageviews.
That means that when fake news breaks, both new and old media can now be counted on to report it. What happens on Twitter does not always stay on Twitter. Unfortunately, sometimes it should.