"Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content"

As online content and social media continue to play a more dominant role in supply market research activities, this perfectly-timed study (Feb. 2015) addresses the very critical issue of authority of news stories on the web. Project leader Craig Silverman, in association with Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, has produced the report, Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content: How News Websites Spread (and Debunk) Online Rumors, Unverified Claims and Misinformation. Even though the report is written for journalists, it is important reading for anyone who researches and relies on breaking news stories. Procurement professionals can be especially vulnerable to unauthoritative news articles because they monitor various websites for risk-related events concerning key suppliers and markets.

Interesting highlights of the study:

“Many of the trends and findings detailed in the paper reflect poorly on how online media behave. Journalists have always sought out emerging (and often unverified) news. They have always followed-on the reports of other news organizations. But today the bar for what is worth giving attention seems to be much lower. There are also widely used practices in online news that are misleading and confusing to the public. These practices reflect short-term thinking that ultimately fails to deliver the full value of a piece of emerging news.” A few practices (directly quoted) include:

• Many news sites apply little or no basic verification to the claims they pass on. Instead, they rely on linking-out to other media reports, which themselves often only cite other media reports as well.

• News organizations are inconsistent at best at following up on the rumors and claims they offer initial coverage.

• News organizations reporting rumors and unverified claims often do so in ways that bias the reader toward thinking the claim is true.

• News organizations utilize a range of hedging language and attribution formulations (“reportedly,” “claims,” etc.) to convey that information they are passing on is unverified.


Here are questions journalists [you] can ask when evaluating a rumor:

What is the source/evidence? Who is the original source saying/ sharing this, and what do they have to back it up? This is the most essential element.

Who else is saying this? Are credible outlets or people saying the same thing? Are they questioning it?

What need does it fill? Rumors fill a need and perform a function.

What is the motivation? Consider the motives of the propagator(s). Is this self-interested, altruistic, or malicious propagation?

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