Fake news is the real news. You may have seen this story in your news feed recently: “Killer Whales Gobble Japanese Whaling Crew.” According to the International Business Times (IBT) which ran the story, a pod of killer whales ate a crew of Japanese whalers who fled their vessel after a small fire broke out on board.
The story bounced around the IBT Australia’s most popular rankings list for most of the day, and it garnered significant attention on Twitter and Facebook with more than 2,200 likes and shares.
A story of whalers who met their end at the hand of pod of killer whales is, perhaps, the ultimate act of karmaic comeuppance. The irony of which is almost too much to bare.
Commenters weighed in on the nautical tragedy with their opinions on the sailors’ grim demise. “Those crew deserved to die for killing the whales,” one gleeful commenter said. “Luckily, the whales got them first.”
Screen grab of the IBT article published on July 28.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that the story is false. Such a story would have appeared everywhere and would undoubtedly be the major headline in every major newspaper and at the top of all top newscasts for several days. It would be silly to trust that the information coming from one obscure news would be trustworthy.
Yet, that is exactly what IBT did when they chose to run it.
The fake story about the ill-fated whalers originally appeared on a website called World News Daily Report, a media outlet which garners attention, clicks and generates ad revenue through the publishing of fake, outlandish news stories. Sites like these hope their stories will have an element of virality, either through their outlandish nature or by duping the less-informed into the believing that the source and the content of the story are actually true.
It is often difficult gauge the legitimacy of sites like World News Daily Report, and there has been a recent history of legitimate news organizations being fooled into picking up fake news stories and reporting them as if they were real.
One recent story about Michelle Bachmann was hastily run by ThinkProgress. The story was taken from another fake news site KCTV7. According to the ThinkProgress piece, “Bachmann proposed the idea of ‘Americanization Facilities’ where the children would be put to work to pay off the costs of their past, present and futures care. In exchange, the children would also be fast-tracked on a path to citizenship.”
In light of its error, the site allowed the article to remain as an admission of its error but drew a line through the body of the copy and posted a disclaimer noting that they had been duped. In an era of rushed deadlines, overworked reporters and their neverending battle to be first, occurrences like this are becoming more common, and the late weeks of summer are known as the doldrums in the news business is when tremendous flubs like these are more likely to see the light of day.
Politicians and newsmakers are often out of the office on holiday, which means that editors and senior reporters choose this time to vacation. With newsrooms running on skeleton crews and the demands of content remaining the same, mistakes like this are ripe to occur during this time of year.
In the case of International Business Times, the story was taken down after 36 excruciating hours, though the error was brought to its attention on social media and in the comments section.
The direct link to the story now brings the user to an error 404, or “page not found” message. The site did not publish a correction or a retraction.