Like Wild Fire, Story about ‘Rogue Caption Writer’ spreads with little verification

Last week, The Globe and Mail made waves around the internet after reports came out that a caption writer for their weekly celebrity photo gallery had taken it upon his or herself to add a slice of political commentary to the captions.

The news spread around the web, hitting a variety of news websites, blogs and social media websites. The details of the story were scarce. The unknown and unnamed writer had turned the captions into a soap box filled with caustic commentary relating to celebrities, the Occupy Wall Street movment and the plight of the so called 99% (and a few comments about fashion.) Not content to let the words do the talking, several photos from the Occupy Wall Street protests were slipped in.

Rumours came in two flavours: the writer had enough of the celebrities and the 1% or the website was hacked.

It wasn’t much later that the Globe released an an interview with the so-called Caption Writer Person, and the story was put to bed.

“None of it is true. I’ve been a mean little unedited brat every week for months now. Just ask Sarah Jessica Parker,” the Caption Writer Person said in the ‘interview’.

And then came a disclaimer on the front page of the gallery the following day, which reads “Editor’s note: Each week, Globe and Mail editors supply tongue in cheek captions to our celebrity of the week photos. This week: our Occupy Wall Street edition. Disclaimer: this isn’t an endorsement of any political position, just a spot of fun.”

The story showed the power and the weakness of social media related news telling. A variety of websites quickly picked it up and had dutifully reported on what they felt was an interesting, if light, story, but the reality was simple, they were reporting on a rumour. Unverified, and in retrospect unresearched (previous galleries have similarily snarky captions), the spread of the story shows the dangers of trying to be the first to report on story, you may often become part of the rumour mill yourself.

Interestingly enough, once the interview and disclaimer were released, only one major website updated their story to reflect the fact that everything was actually still normal over at the Globe and Mail.

The whole situation did lead the Caption Writer Person to grab a twitter account, which might be a good place to check before assuming the Globe’s been hacked again this week.

Posted: October 18th, 2011
Categories: Featured
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