We will need better filters as spurious news explodes: the curious case of the king of Saudi Arabia buying Facebook


Earlier today ‘satirical’ website DawnWires published a story titled Saudi King to buy Facebook for $150 billion to end the revolt: Goldman Sachs to advise. The article was published in the LoLNews category, and the bottom of it says “Sunday Humor… (Sunday Humor article at Dawnwires.com are meant to humor our readers. They may or may not be the truth.)”

The article was taken up by a number of mainstream news sites in the Middle East, including Tehran Times (quoting “inside sources”) and Egyptian media, as noted by Google exec Wael Ghonim. The original story on DawnWires shows almost 30,000 Facebook shares and over 30,000 shares on other channels, suggesting a lot of people have seen this now.

The story has been debunked by The Next Web and others.

This does recall the incident last November when Fox Nation published an article based on a joke piecein leading satirical site The Onion. They so loved the story about Obama writing a 150 page email to everyone in America that they didn’t spend the few seconds it would take to check the source, and the fact that all their stories are made up.

Of course, DawnWire is not The Onion. In fact, before today their Alexa ranking was around 1,850,000, suggesting traffic of around 50 visitors a day or perhaps less.

Interestingly, two other headlines from DawnWires today are Barrack Obama signs state pardon for Bernie Madoff. All charges dropped, and Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, Resigns.

Neither article has received any attention. However it would not be entirely surprising if the success of the Facebook story led the editors of DawnWire to try some other headlines that could inadvertently get taken up across the globe.

And no doubt they are not the only ones who are thinking hard on seeing the massive traffic going to this story. Spurious news – sometimes satirical, sometimes intended to deceive – could certainly attract attention and profitable traffic, and I would be surprised if we don’t see a big rise in this in coming weeks, months, and years.

As with the Fox Nation story and as noted by Wael Ghonim, this is partly an issue of journalistic standards. Check your sources, for starters.

In addition, as I have written before, the proliferation of crap content makes content reputation systems critically important.

It has long been clear that the explosion of news sources of all kinds means that it is harder to identify what is valid and what is not. It is definitely good for incumbent news providers when reputation becomes one of the core sources of value in the NewsScape. However it doesn’t mean that people will only go to the old established news brands.

I continue to believe that emerging content reputation systems will enable us to sort through the validity of news and news sources. However before we get there a likely explosion in spurious news will make it sometimes hard to sort through what is true and what is not.