Last Friday a rumor went up on CNN's "Citizen journalism" site saying that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had had a heart attack. Apple stock plunged momentarily, but the posting was debunked within the hour. The suspicion now is that the rumor was planted by a short seller looking to capitalize on the skittish reaction of the market. So that means don't trust crazy internet rumors because the internet is lies! Right? No: The incident caused an uproar, but look at what it really was: one guy with a fake post on an unmediated citizen journalism site. Making any stock selling decisions based on that is approximately as risky as making the same decision based on a Craigslist post. It's an inherent gamble. Jeff Jarvis is sanguine:
Every time so-called citizen journalism muffs one, I get such calls, as if to say, look what your bratty kid is up to now. Funny, I don't get them – as a journalist – every time a reporter messes up. I told these reporters that they were on the tail of the wrong story. This may not be about citizen journalism at all. It may be about someone trying to game Apple stock and using, nefariously, whatever tools were available. I also told them that anyone who sold their stock on the basis of a pseudonymous post on the web was a fool who deserved what they got.
He's right! And furthermore, anyone familiar with online media would have known right off the bat that there's no guarantee of the accuracy of the rumor like that. Have you looked at the internet lately? So while the majority of internet readers took the whole thing with a grain of salt, the traders who didn't are now in an uproar. It's interesting to contrast this with the recent debunked rumor about a (nonexistent) Esquire story on Anne Hathaway in which the actress supposedly said she loves anal sex. That one got far more credulous coverage than the Jobs rumor. Why? Because it cited a print source—Esquire—which even trash-talking bloggers like us subconsciously assume is trustworthy. (Even if the actual interview didn't turn out to exist). The lesson: rumors are rumors are rumors. The main thing the sketchiness of internet rumors reveals is the underlying sketchiness of print rumors, too. If you trade on a rumor and get burned, don't cry about it. It's all about learning.