Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Anatomy of an Internet Rumor

Any of you who know me or read this blog regularly know I am a huge Auburn University fan. HUGE. Recently my Beloved Auburn Tigers’ football team has come under some scrutiny due to some issues with a player’s father and his dealings with another university. I will leave it to others to sort it all out and make whatever decisions they deem proper. What I am here to talk about is an interesting thing that happened on an Auburn blog I read, the Hottest Auburn Blog on the Net – otherwise known as HABOTN.

HABOTN was started by Montgomery Advertiser sports journalist Jay G. Tate as a blog where you could comment on a story of his. He got such a great response, he recently added a forum for various topics. It’s built up a pretty good community of folks over the years and prides itself on not letting it disintegrate into the ugliness that other college sports blogs and forums are famous for. I’ve been part of it for over 2 years now and in that time, you tend to get to know the other folks’ personalities even if you’ve never met them in person before. It’s sort of like a family – complete with the “Weird Uncle” (not naming any names).

Of course, the “Hotties,” as members of the board are known, were all up in arms when this story hit the air. Would our star player have to sit out? Did he know what had happened? Would our soon-to-be undefeated season be considered null and void? Did we pay him to come? But there was so much speculation and guesswork by even accredited journalists no one really knew what was going to happen. This type of environment is ripe for rumors. Opposing school’s fans were of course saying the worst. Our fans were saying there was nothing to worry about.  There was a whole lot of “I heard from this guy, who knows a guy who knows what really happened…..”

This is where our rumor comes in. One of our funnier posters (funniest?), who I will simply call Mchiela to protect his identity, posted a fairly long and very descriptive story about how he knew our Athletic Director and what really happened. It included a cast of characters from a local dog track owner to the former player from Mississippi State where all this went down and the FBI. It was a very good story – key word being “story.”

Well those of us who had been a part of the blog long enough knew he was joking. The fact he was making it up was even referenced further in the thread. However, someone picked it up as an actual possibility and it made the rounds through various message boards until a week or so later someone posted the EXACT SAME STORY on HABOTN as something they had heard. Several people jumped on it as being Mchiela’s story and we all had a good laugh and reaffirmed Mchiela’s greatness.

Other than being a great case study on the way news travels on the net now, it also serves as a warning for us who rely on the internet for the bulk of our information. While I know better than to put too much stock in what I read on a sports message board, I do a ton of research and the majority (read: “all”) of it comes from the internet. So how do I know if the review I am reading for this product is accurate? How do I know if these directions I am following will actually do what it says it will?

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you aren’t led astray when looking for information on the internet for your organization:

  • Check the Date: This is especially important for comparing products and services or looking for technical support. Things change pretty fast these days. I was just researching a service for a client when I realized the review I was reading was a year old. Several features had been added since the review had been written. Just because it was the top result in a Google search, didn’t mean it was still applicable. So pay attention to when the information was published.
  • Consider the Source: Is this a reliable site you’re reading? Message boards can be a great source of information. In fact a lot of services such as WordPress use an open forum community for users to submit their technical questions and other users answer them. Not all places are like this though. If it’s a message board make sure it is monitored closely and sponsored by a reputable organization. If it’s Wikipedia, follow the source link. If it’s a blog post, check out the author.
  • Verify: Try to find the same information somewhere else. And if you do, see if it was taken from the original source. Unfortunately, people will see a headline and regurgitate what was already written without doing any additional research. Sometimes this is an indication that the original source was worthy to reprint and sometimes it’s just an indication of lazy writing.
  • Cut Out the Middle Man: If you are looking for information about a service, go straight to that service, especially if you are comparing two noted rival brands like iPhone and Droid, for example. You could run into opinions that are similar to what you might read on a sports blog, and people will often say things that aren’t necessarily true.  So go to the company’s site. They will have their features listed and could also have reviews or testimonials. Of course, they are going to make themselves look as good as possible, but it’s still the first place you should start.

So while believing what you read on a fan site probably won’t affect you other than making you look stupid, blindly following what you read on the internet could get you into trouble from a business point of view. Don’t get stuck with inferior services because you trusted old biased information because it ranked first in a Google search. Do your homework. And if all else fails, ask your friends or colleagues for help.

Thanks for reading,

Oh…and War Eagle!

Have a topic you would like me to blog about? Recommendations? Think this post was great or awful or just so-so? Let me know in the comments section!

5 Responses to “Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Anatomy of an Internet Rumor”

  1. Norm says on :

    I know who the “weird Uncle” is and I bet he’ll never read this blog.

  2. Kris says on :

    No, he won’t. But I didn’t want anyone else running off telling him.

  3. Eddie says on :

    “Consider the Source”- loved that part.

    Weird Uncle- Hmmm?? :)

  4. MJT says on :

    But Kristina, are you suggesting that you should take these steps to confirm or debunk information on message boards even if you like the information you are reading? Wouldn’t you be happier in the long run just questioning the things you don’t like?

  5. Kris says on :

    Happier? Possibly, yes, for the moment. Or possibly forever. But also possibly only for a while then you realize that huge glaring mistake you made will follow you for the rest of your life.

    Plus I know you, as a pit dweller, would never do that.