Spreading rumors

Those of us who are big fans of social media, are occasionally reminded that it can be a terrible way to get accurate information.

The best example of this in years came today when a rumor swept across texting-land that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was resigning. According to the New York Times, a subsidiary of the National Enquirer picked up the story, and then Matt Drudge’s Web site linked to that story, and it was often and running.

The blog, Above the Law, traced it back to a class at Georgetown Law School where a professor deliberately told the class that Roberts would resign tomorrow. He waited a half hour before revealing that he was fibbing. He expected that what would happen, is exactly what happened.

The blog quotes the story from a student in the professor’s class:

Our criminal justice professor started our 9am lecture with the news that roberts will be resigning tomorow for health reasons- that he could not handle the administrative burdens of the job. He would not say how he knows- but halfway through our lecture on the credibility and reliability of informants he revealed that the Roberts rumor was made up to show how someone you ordinarily think is credible and reliable (ie a law professor) can disseminate inaccurate information.

[B]etween the hour when the class began and when he revealed that he made it up, plenty of students txted and imed their friends and family…. [So] there’s a very good chance that the Roberts rumor that spread like wildfire on the internet was sparked by an eccentric law professor trying to make a point.

The professor hasn’t confirmed the story, so none of this might be true.

It says something about the next generation of lawyers, however, that a professor who insists that information be checked for accuracy is considered “eccentric.”

  • joshua


  • JohnnyZoom

    >> The professor hasn’t confirmed the story, so none of this might be true.

    (grin) Nice touch. I didn’t even think of it, and you know how skeptical I am.

  • John O.

    If memory serves, one can be prosecuted for yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater where no fire exists.

    Did anyone tweet the prof to let him know his “canary trap” worked?