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April 01 2011

20:07

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Hoax email Charlie Sheen

image from JonnyCampbell

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

20:07

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Hoax email Charlie Sheen

image from JonnyCampbell

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

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20:51
09:39

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Jonny Campbell's Charlie Sheen internship hoax

Image from jonnycampbell.com

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

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December 05 2010

20:19

Facebook, cartoon avatars, paedophiles and SEO as a public service

A few days ago status updates like this were doing the rounds on Facebook:

“Change your facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. Until Monday (December 6), there should be no human faces on facebook, but a stash of memories. This is for eliminating violence against children.”

Of course it is. Or maybe not. Today, the rumour changed poles:

“This cartoon thing has been set up by paedos using A registered charities name to entice kids. apparently on the 6th dec you will be kicked off fb if u have cartoon pics. The more folk that… put up cartoon pics the harder it is fo…r the police to catch these sickos!!”

There doesn’t appear to be any truth in the latter rumour. Internet hoax library Snopes has a similar hoax listed, and this seems to be variant of it.

SEO as a public service

Hoax updates do the rounds on social networks and text messages on a semi-regular basis. Remember the one about children being kidnapped in supermarket toilets? Or how about police banning English flags in pubs for fear of offending people?

In both cases the mainstream media was slow to react to the rumours. A Google search – which would be a typical reaction of anyone receiving such a message – would bring up nothing to counter those rumours. (Notably, perhaps because of its public and real-time nature, Twitter seems better at quashing hoaxes).

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is much derided for a perception that it leads news organisations to write for machines, or to aim for the lowest common denominator. But SEO has a very valuable role in serving the public: if searches on a particular rumour shoot up, or mentions of it increase on social networks, it’s worth verifying and getting up the facts quickly.

This is another reason why journalists should be on social networks, and why publishers should be monitoring them more broadly. Whether your motivations are civic, or commercial, it makes sense both ways.

PS: If you need any tips on methods and tools, see my Delicious bookmarks for verification.

(h/t to Conrad Quilty-Harper)

December 15 2009

10:00

Mistakes in the Big (and small) Media: Quality in Reporting

It is always fun when a hoaxed piece of research gets past all the filters and makes the newspapers, but what does it teach us? This is a video report from the Hungry Beast team in Australia, “proving” which part of Australia is the most gullible. The answer is, apparently, “the media”.

Link, in case the video doesn’t embed properly.

Here’s a different example from last week: Andrew Lansley’s insurance of a painting and medal on his Expenses as an MP.

All the papers quoted a value of 3500 ukp, except for the Independent which quoted a *premium* of 3500 ukp.

Independent:

“Other senior Tories also faced embarrassment over the latest expenses revelations. Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, submitted a 3,500 claim for the cost of insuring a medal and a painting.”

FT

Among the more whimsical claims was a 58.67 whistling kettle bought by Tory MP Douglas Carswell, 400 of repairs to Crispin Blunt’s “waterwheel structure” and Andrew Lansley’s insurance of a medal and a painting.

Cambridge News

Andrew Lansley’s home insurance policy reveals he specifically paid for protection on a medal valued at 2,022 and a painting, Hotel Tropical Island by D D D Ferris, worth 1,506.

Times

Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary, claimed the 398.92 cost of a home insurance policy, which listed a medal valued at 2,022 and a painting by DDD Ferris, entitled Hotel Tropical Island, valued at 1,506.

So what conclusions can we draw?

These are my reflections as a blogger:

  1. We have shifted to reading multiple sources on the same story presented together by Google News and other “headline summarizing” websites, such that variations are more visible.
  2. Articles reported in the media are just another set of sources. Sometimes they will not be consistent amongst themselves.
  3. If I am commenting, my reputation depends on the facts I’m commenting on being the accurate ones. If the big media source I quote is mistaken, then it takes part of my reputation with it too. So I have to do careful checking.
  4. It is the easiest thing in the world to be provoked by an “outlier” report, such as the Independent above. That way lies madness, and a broken reputation.
  5. Perhaps commentators’ need to fact-check is one factor driving more detailed scrutiny.
  6. Tight deadlines and thinner journalistic resources perhaps exasperate any difficulties.

I think that both bloggers and MSM writers need to re-emphasise traditional craft disciplines – dual sourcing, fact checking, sweating the detail. In other words, all the boring stuff.

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