There's an old saying in tabloid journalism: "never let the facts get in the way of a good story." Unfortunately, it seems like lately, the line between tabloids and legitimate publications is starting to become a little blurred. I'm going to come right out and say it: if you're a content creator, you need to make sure you're citing reputable sources.
Take search engine optimization, for example. Although I'm not going to name any specific publications, there exists a ton of self-professed 'experts' on the web who do little more than parrot what other people say, regardless of whether or not it's true. They cite articles that don't source their claims, they grab data without checking its veracity, and they make groundless claims based mostly on hearsay.
If I'm being honest, the SEO industry isn't unique in this. It's just one of the easiest examples to point out. Content creation as a whole - especially online journalism - has a serious problem with fact checking.
"Arguably the most important shift in journalism is that fact checkers are now an extinct species," writes Ryan Bolton of The Plaid Zebra. "You'll recall when users on 4Chan were threatening to release nude photos of Emma Watson following her speech at the United Nations. Then news sources started to report on this other site run by the so-called company Rantic Marketing. Their message was #shutdown4chan."
Turns out there were no photos - and Rantic Marketing didn't actually exist. The whole thing was an extensive hoax orchestrated by 4Chan. And reputable publications - publications that are considered authoritative - fell for it.
This is hardly a rare thing online, unfortunately.
If this were the old days of ink-and-paper, it might not be such an issue. Publications could simply print an apology the next day and be done with it. But this is the age of social media we're living in.
Information - even if it's false - spreads like wildfire through social channels. If you publish an ill-informed piece and it goes viral, you're going to have a bit of egg on your face when someone else figures out what you wrote is untrue. Especially today, it's incredibly important that you make sure your information's valid before you publish.
To that end, I'd like to offer up a few words of advice:
- If you make a fact-based claim, back it up with research. Data pulled from analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, and HfS is probably pretty sound, but exercise caution if it's an organization you don't recognize.
- Always make sure a source is backed up by at least two other unrelated sources.
- If a story seems fishy, then it probably is. Ask around, and check on sites like Snopes to see if anyone else has brought it up.
- If you publish a story that includes false facts, update it as soon as possible with the real information.
- When you update a post, don't be sneaky about it. It's journalistic good practice to own up to your mistakes and apologize for them. Make it clear that your posts have been edited and why.
The Internet is one of the greatest sources of information in the world. The only problem is that a lot of the information online is...questionable, to say the least. As a content creator, it's your duty to make sure you don't add to that sea of misinformation.
Check your facts, people. It's part of your job.