Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

French press makes a fool of itself on “Facebook president” hoax; why being digitally literate helps accuracy

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The French media are really embarrassed these days. They all reported as though it were true facts on something that reeked of a hoax from miles away. Only they were, it seems, not the least bit digitally literate, so they didn’t smell it. The French blogosphere is going all crazy about it, so I’ll give you the reader’s digest version.

A third-party application on Facebook offered to elect the next “Facebook worldwide president.” A French man actually won: Arash Derambarsh, 28 years old and real-life local politician. Problem is, he was only elected by the few thousand people who had decided to add this third-party app (one of easily thousands available on Facebook) and thought it would be fun. There was never such a thing as a Facebook-wide election. What for anyway?

But the French press bought it. The guy went on TV, was interviewed by a bunch of papers, etc… This site has screenshots and videos of much of the coverage. Check it out even if you don’t speak French. Now, Mr. Derambarsh says he was confused and thought the election was real. On a facebook group that denounced the whole thing (yes, it took Facebook users, not journalists, to reveal the hoax), he wrote:

Je répéte encore une fois que je suis confus et mea culpa pour tout ce buzz involontaire…

… which translates to “my bad.” I dare hope the guy’s a bit smarter than that and did it intentionally to create a buzz around his real-life campaign. But who cares? I don’t care if a politician is stupid; I care if a journalist bothers to check his/her information. In this case, it seems, one person reported it, and everyone kept rewriting the same report because, well, if such and such wrote it, it must be true. A textbook case of viral inaccuracy.

This also speaks to a comment I saw on Howard Owens’ much blogged about contest for non-wired journalists. The contest offers $100 to a journalist who completes in 2008 their Web 2.0 transition: Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, blog, video… One reader (under the name Tracy Ulin) commented that the point was not so much to have and use all those accounts every day, but to be at least as digitally literate as your audience. Anyone with some minimal experience of Facebook would have realized it was a hoax.

When I first joined Facebook almost 3 years ago, back when you still needed to be enrolled in one of a few approved universities to join, I found a high school friend whose profile said “Married.” I immediately posted on his wall (I was proud of myself for understanding the wall thing) something to the effect of “What? Married? Seriously? Who is she?” Two days later, I had understood that my friend wasn’t really married and people do that on Facebook: they write false information on their profile just for fun. I was engaged to my roommate for a while. (I also tried to show that I had hooked up with Truman the Tiger, but he denied me.) Facebook literates can spot that false stuff from miles away; clearly, most of the French press is not Facebook-literate. Time to catch up, guys. (Or if you really don’t want to, then give the story to someone else who will bother to fact check.)

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Wednesday, 9 January, 2008 at 22:21

Posted in Ethics, Web 2.0

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