Friday morning, a number of people jumped on an unverified report that showed up on CNN’s cit j channel iReport.com claiming—erroneously, as it quickly turned out—that Steve Jobs had a heart attack. Never mind that the site clearly bills material as unedited and unfiltered. SAI, among others, connected the words CNN and news, instead, ignoring the unverified aspect in favor of an “it could be true” approach. The Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) CEO’s health has been under the microscope—and concerns have moved the stock price on a number of occasions. Today’s report and the instant ripples had the same effect, sending the stock to a 52-week low before Apple’s denial could make the circuit, and raising concerns that someone was trying to manipulate the stock. CNN has been contacted by the SEC and, according to AP, has promised “to provide information about the posting.”
The hyperbole has this billed as the “first great test of citizen journalism”—which it’s not. It’s not even the second or the third. It’s also not a failure of an entire concept. People try to game systems whether its Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) message boards, automated press releases or upload sites, and some systems are easier to game than others. CNN and other media outlets providing space for unfettered contributions inevitably tied to their own reputations need to spend even more time thinking about how to handle what shows up there. But it’s up to us as journalists and sharers of information to decide how we make use of any unsubstantiated reports.
Case in point: the same report was submitted to MacRumors , which rejected it. Arnold Kim, who compares iReport posts to forum messages, has some harsh but true words (via AllThingsD): “If you want to blame someone for dropping Apple’s stock price today, you can point fingers to the individuals on 4chan or the person that originally submitted it, but the real reason it gained traction is the reporting of it on mainstream blog sites.”