You’d think after the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend fiasco journalists everywhere would have curled up into a ball and engaged in a long period of soul-searching, from which they emerged with a renewed zeal for reporting on things that actually existed.
Nope. An email prank from an anonymous tipster ensnared many of the top names in video game blogging earlier today, including CNET and Gizmodo (a sister site to Deadspin, which broke the Manti Te’o story).
The premise was elegant in its simplicity: The next iteration of Microsoft’s gaming console wouldn’t be called “XBox720” but, instead, just “XBox.”
Gaming blog Pocket Lint picked up the news first. Other sites soon parroted the story, referring back to the Pocket Lint piece. Headlines promised the news was nothing but a “rumor,” a disclaimer intended to absolve the publisher of any guilt should the unsubstantiated story turn out to be false.
A few hours later, a pseudonymous Tumblr user, X-surface, revealed it was all a lie. “This was a bit of an experiment to see just how easy it is to get a fake story taken seriously,” the hoaxster wrote. “And it is shockingly easy in the games industry.”
Posing as an unnamed Microsoft employee, he or she had penned a long, fastidiously detailed email, providing provided zero confirmation the person was an actual Microsoft employee. The letter did include a juicy bit of gossip about the XBox’s name, of course—the information news sites would lead with—as well as a bunch of boring tech specs that filled out the rest of the story.
“I made up every single word of it along with a couple of specs copied from other rumours that have been appearing on the Internet.”
As proof of the hoax, X-surface posted screengrabs of the email. Microsoft representatives didn’t respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment confirming the news was a hoax. But in a tweet, Larry Hryb, the director of programming for Xbox Live, called the affair “an interesting exercise of misinformation & modern day web gaming ‘journalism.'”
Like a drowning man who tries to save himself by swimming to the ocean floor and hoping for the best, Pocket Lint’s attempt to get out the situation only made it orders of magnitude worse. Here’s their official explanation for how things went down, posted as an update to the original story:
[X-surface] conveniently ignores the fact that at the end of our posting, we did finish the story above with a disclaimer. “Naturally, when a tipster is anonymous, there is some degree of trepidation attached to believing what they say verbatim. However, considering the facts Pocket-lint has been given, and the lack of outlandish claims, everything our source says is plausible,” we wrote. And that’s just it, everything said in the fake “tip” was plausible.
There were no outlandish claims – such as the next Kinect will be a inside a hat or the new controller will look like Charlie Chaplin’s moustache. So we game [sic] him the benefit of the doubt because there was little reason not to, considering the content and what we have heard before.
That’s right, folks: Pocket Lint won’t publish any stories about controllers disguised as Charlie Chaplin’s Mustache or a Kinect in a hat, but all other rumors are game. The threshold for news isn’t whether it’s actually true, but whether it sounds like maybe it could be true.
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