When Does Hoax “Journalism” Go Too Far?
Today I happened to open up my RSS reader as I normally do and proceeded to read one of the more interesting Blogs I follow: Tim Boucher’s Pop Occulture. The latest article definitely caught my eye: Mel Gibson: Passion of the Terrorist (http://www.timboucher.com/journal/2006/08/01/mel-gibson-passion-of-the-terrorist/). In a nutshell, the article had cited a credible source (BBC News) and reported that Mel Gibson had been charged with financing known Muslim extremist groups. I was honestly skeptical at first, but after I clicked on the BBC link and saw the story I was convinced.
At the end of the work day I decided to dig in a little further and check for the latest update on some other news sites and found nothing! I checked CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Google News top stories and there was no reference to this story. I decided to go back to Tim’s site and found out that this was a “hoax” after all. I think there are a few lessons to be learned here:
1) Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.
2) If you cite a source make sure it’s credible. In Tim’s defense, this article looked very much like the real thing. I was fooled.
3) Contributing members of the Internet ecosystem who publish content that is considered news (e.g. anybody with a blog) should have a degree of accountability. Common sense, maturity, and a general sense of decency go a long way.
was forged to look identical to the BBC UK site, and it passed as authentic to many people. In hindsight the domain name should have given it away, but given the short attention span of most news readers (namely me) bouncing from story to story, looking at the domain name of the news site is usually not the primary concern.
Free speech, satire, and sometimes convincing hoaxes are one thing. But posts that are borderline malicious, and libelous in nature are irresponsible. I certainly don’t excuse the statements that Mel made during his arrest
, but I think posting false stories that he has ties to terrorism, and trying to pass them off as authentic is going too far. If Mel was sitting in the same room as the person that posted the hoax story while it was being typed, would he have the guts to go through with publishing the post?
I’d like to think that I have as much of a sense of humor as anybody. I absolutely love irony, satire, and absurdity. I can’t get enough of the Simpsons, South Park, The Family Guy (Giggity, giggity giggity!), and Futurama. But, I question why somebody thinks a story of this nature is funny. I wasn’t really laughing or awe struck when I discovered the ironic twist that this story was a lie. If you go to http://bbclosangeles.com/blog/, you’ll see that the guy responsible for the site, Mike Hess, have given a number of “reasons” why he posted the article.
I can’t profess to know the real motive of why this article was posted, or what other type of content usually ends up on bbclosangeles.com. But, i do find it very odd that this domain name was registered on July 30th, 2006: only 2 days before the Mel Gibson article was posted). Either this is going to be the first of a potentially long series of hoaxes that are planned, or this domain was registered for the sole purpose of trying to discredit Mel Gibson even further, and fool the general public.
At the very least I think Mike Hess owes Mel Gibson a sincere public apology…. regardless if the original intentions were good or ill-willed. According to Hess’ blog:
“People think I meant Mel Gibson harm or ill intent, I didn’t. Hell, I’d go have a beer and joke with him about it (as long as he didn’t go driving afterwards, btw Mel, if you are reading this, I wouldn’t mind having your autograph…”
If you like somebody enough to want their autograph, then I doubt the best way to do this is by publicly humiliating and enraging them. I am absolutely in favor of making the public more aware of where they get their information from and to be cautious of the credibility of news sources. But, education by trickery is not the way to go. Use common sense: don’t trick people, don’t backtrack by making your actions seem noble if you’ve tricked people, and try to invest your time and energy towards more constructive efforts. Peace.