You probably know the old warning about not believing everything you see online. I'm a firm supporter of that skepticism.
It's easy to doctor articles so they look real. Anyone can post a bogus news release. And how many emails do we all get from well-meaning friends who forward things that have been forwarded dozens of times to the point where it's hard to see where it originally came from? And how trustworthy is the original source...IF that's really the original source.
Social media has a place in the newsgathering process, since it allows media (and we news consumers) to get news as it's happening. An example is the terror attack in Mumbai a few years ago, where information was sketchy. A reporter for The New York Times was on site and his Twitter updates kept us informed. But there were many other tweets online, and it's hard to know which, if any, were authentic or accurate.
So the joke Jimmy Kimmel played recently should teach us a lesson about relying on social media for news and information, and it should make us question a bit more closely the authenticity of what we read and see online.
In a monologue sevberal weeks ago, Kimmel talked about a video he saw on YouTube showing a young woman twerking (dancing) and accidentally setting herself on fire. He showed the clip that night and made no further references to it after that.
After the Miley Cyrus twerking debacle on the MTV music video awards show two weeks ago, the YouTube clip started getting lots of views as people did YouTube searches for "twerking."
Then, a few nights ago, Kimmel mentioned how the clip had more than 10 million views and had been picked up by major news organizations including most of the network news shows and dozens of newscasts on local TV stations. He then did a Skype interview with the woman in the clip, only to reveal midway through the interview that the woman -- a professional stuntwoman -- was actually behind the curtain on Kimmel's stage. The interview and the original clip had been staged as a really funny bit on Kimmel's late night show. And he mockingly referred to all the news coverage the original clip had received.
Some are miffed with Kimmel for pulling the wool over the public's eyes as a way to get more publicity for himself, but I have no problem with it. The fault really lies with the media who simply pulled a funny video off of YouTube and ran it without looking into its authenticity.
Maybe it's a lesson that the media and the public should be cautious about what they take as real and accurate when it's on social media.
Links to the original clip and Kimmel revealing the hoax are here, in a TV Week story.