Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 30, 2006 6:45 AM

Firestarter

Here's what Wikipedia says about the word Firestarter:

"The title character of Firestarter is Charlene 'Charlie' McGee , a young girl with pyrokinesis - the ability to create fire with the power of her mind. Charlie is a mutant."

It's the title of a classic book by Stephen King and it's a title I am now officially dedicating to people who Blog and Podcast about news-related items, but who do not do the basic fact-checking first before publishing.

I am not saying that Bloggers or Podcasters must have the same integrity or sources as the traditional media. I am saying that Bloggers and Podcasters who do have an audience owe it to themselves and said audience to make sure that what they are covering maintains the integrity of the truth.

Why the rant?

It has been brewing for many months. I listen to a ton of Podcasts and I follow even more Blogs and, at one point or another, I am hearing or reading something that is either false or has been exaggerated to suit the conversation, or a comment that could have been rectified with a simple search on Google.

While I am not saying that us Social Media people must be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists, I will begin to call those who don't do the absolute basics of fact checking a Firestarter (fret not, I've been a mutant myself once or twice along the journey).

The most recent example of Firestarter is the flurry of Blog postings over Apple who was accused of trying to copyright the word "Podcasting." There were rumors that Apple had sent cease and desist letters to companies who were using the word "Podcasting," etc... It turns out that Apple was actually only going after companies who were infringing on the term "iPod" (which they do own) and, Apple is in the process of trying to secure the rights to the word "pod" - which most would agree would be a stretch.

Point is, nobody looked at these supposed cease and desist letters (although, I thought Adam Curry did an excellent job of breaking it down in a recent episode of The Daily Source Code Podcast), nobody bothered to contact Apple or their Public Relations firms prior to posting, and very few people even attempted to contact the companies who had been sent these letters.

Don't be a Firestarter.

The last thing I would like to see is a standards and guidelines for Blogs and Podcasts, but I don't think we should all jump on one Firestarter posting and create our own brush fires along the way.

A little research and common sense goes a long way.

Only you can stop Firestarters.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Tim
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    I know you're a busy guy, but how about some links man? I mean, you link to ipod.com and adam curry, but nothing closely related to your topic. And thanks, but I can find www.google.com all by myself if I can find your blog.

    I think the first step towards responsible blogging is at least identifying where you got your information. Some of your "firestarters" have at least got that part right.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for the comment Tim.

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I add a link to everything. The concept of Firestarter is original, it's from my brain - not a related news item.

    If you want some sources for the "Podcasting" misunderstanding, I would suggest doing a search on Google News or Technorati. My understanding is that it started with a Wired Magazine item, which I could not find. Since I could not find it or source it, I did not mention it.

    I got the information about the story from Adam Curry's Daily Source Code - as mentioned in the Blog posting and then did a quick glance over at Technorati to see all of the Firestarters.

    I hope that clears it up.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sulemaan Ahmed
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    I agree with you 100%. My father (who spent 35 years in broadcasting and journalism) said before you state something you must have 3 independant sources or you couldn't broadcast or publish the news item.

    I'm not suggesting that bloggers need 3 independant sources but they should state or reference their material. Otherwise, people will take everything bloggers state with a grain of salt.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    I'm definitely not saying that we need to be as detailed as professional journalists. The spirit of the post Firestarter was simply to describe those who read one post and fire away on the contents without even knowing how accurate the information is.

    I'm guilty of this. but I am going to do my best to pay more attention. Otherwise, we wind up clogging the Internet with information that may seen accurate, but is not.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tim
    Mitch Joel

    Imagine somebody comes along and knows nothing about the current Apple situation. You provide a lot of links, but none of them is of any use if they wanted to find out more about what you are talking about and what you are responding to. I can understand why you might not want to single out specific bloggers in this situation even though having an open conversation with them and increasing trackbacks is probably a good idea.

    Jaffe is one of your "firestarters" and in his post he links to the Wired article (not Wired.com). If I am reading his post I can easily verify where he got his information.

    You link to DSC, but not the specific episode or post where he discusses this topic. So if I read your post a week or month later it is going to take some effort to find out what you are referring to.

    I guess the thing irked me about your post is that you are complaining about the laziness of bloggers in fact checking. Well, what is the main way I can tell if someone is getting their information from good sources and verify for myself what they post is accurate?

    I think the style of your linking is similar to the NYTimes and other major old media newspapers. When they include links in an artice they are usually to main corporate websites or to a financal information about the firm. The reason we trust them is that they have their brand on the line every time they publish.

    For a blog I think it makes more sense to link to the specific place where you got your information. For instance if you're writing a post Caribou Coffee accepting Starbucks coupons link to where you found out this was true, not caribou.com and starbucks.com. If you can't remember where you got the information and can't be bothered to look it up again, doesn't that say something about your dedication to fact checking and your potential to be a "firestarter"?

    Is it clear what I am trying to say?

    All the best,

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Behringer
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    I went off on my blog a few times about this. While I have now seen the letter and agree it was somewhat overblown, this is not the first time Apple has been in the news for going after the word pod.

    This is my beef with them. iPod, fine. Pod...not so fast.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    Crystal clear.

    You make some valid points. I'll be sure to walk the talk.

    Thanks for the insights.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Behringer
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch:

    After reading your comments both here and on my blog, I have to agree with you.

    The blogosphere has enormous power, which I think everyone doesn't fully grasp yet. It's important that we are fair, honest and up front with the facts. I think that people tend to fly off the handle and just say whatever is on their mind...sans filter. That's the beautiful part of blogs, but also the dangerous one.

    It's funny that when I went out to try to figure out the facts behind this situation all I could find were blog posts agreeing with each other. That very much speaks to your point.

    Thanks for your comment. I am itching to hear the new Six Pixels...just trying to figure out how to get my podcasts now that I'm stuck with dial up!


    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks Kevin.

    I'm not looking for everyone to agree with me. I was there when search for the Internet first started and my point is not to judge one instance, it's to look at the macro effects of search. If we don't dig enough now and get this right, all search results will become close to null and void - we won't trust what we read.

    As social media takes over traditional media, this will cause some major issues in terms of reliable sources. If the newspapers stop printing because everyone is reading their news online and online writers (now known as Bloggers) are not doing any form of diligence, then when someone comes along to do a search and all results lead to mis-information, we're all going to be stuck.

    Again, I admit it. I'm a Firestarter too. The thought just gave me pause to think.

    Reply
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