Citizen Journalism and Authenticity

Bloomberg recently ran a story which covered the bogus CNN iReport last week suggesting Steve Jobs had a heart attack. I didn’t see the actual report but this is a great example of people manipulating the supposed authenticity of citizen produced media. In a utopian world where citizens don’t advocate and have no selfish motives, the concept of citizen produced media works splendidly. People gather and present information to help others understand events or experiences. Great! But enter the world of advocacy, corporate manipulation / communication, and, well, stupid people perpetuating information from citizen media that they haven’t themselves verified.

This is an equation for bad information quality and exposes a current weakness of citizen media; citizen media is still largely perceived as authentic (or perhaps innocent) and presupposes a non-manipulative position. This is a gullibility error; the media is not authentic but is perceived as such due to its presentation, and I would say its production quality. But clearly citizens can be manipulators with their media too. Of course, there have been many stories of the blogger paid to blog positivly about product XYZ. Or companies tapping into the authenticity of citizen media to drive their brands. The story about the fake CNN iReport about Steve Jobs could be another example of this. This time it affected the stock price of Apple (-3% by the end of the day on 10/3 but upto -5.4% during trading that day).

What is perhaps strange about this story is that because it’s Apple, there’s tons of buzz when a story like this hits. And it’s the buzz and uncertainty in the verity of the information which fuels a stock sell off. This is why journalists check and re-check information before it actually gets published; in the intervening time during the sorting out process damage can be done. Some more caveats for Citizen Journalism: people need to have their guards up, be aware of gullibility errors, and check the information before they pass it on. Sometimes ex post facto filtering just isn’t a good idea though.