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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fake News About Google Purchase Bounced Around Internet Echo Chamber

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Meta: Finding fake news about Google on Google.
  • Meta: Finding fake news about Google on Google.
It was early Monday morning when people first started thinking that Google purchased ICOA Inc., a WiFi hotspot company based in Rhode Island. A headline on PRWeb, which businesses use to post press releases, read: "ICOA Inc. Acquired by Google for $400 Million."

It's unclear who broke the story first. Might have been the Associated Press, might have been TechCrunch. With the Kendall Hunter-quick echo chamber of the internet, these facts are hard to know (unless, of course, a post maintains a time stamp). The Chronicle's website, which regurgitates PRWeb press releases, also jumped in. So did Engaget.

The news, though, was not true.

The Internet echo chamber can disperse corrections as quickly as it can inaccuracies. At 8:45 a.m. west coast time, All Things D, apparently the first outlet to try to confirm the news, reported that it received an e-mail from ICOA CFO Erwin Vahlsing stating, "It is false." The site also reported that "sources at Google are denying reports that the search giant has acquired ICOA Wireless in a $400 million deal."

The AP and the Chron pulled the article. It also vanished from PRWeb. The blogs updated their posts with corrections.

In hindsight, industry insiders might see something fishy in the announced deal: As Reuters reported, "At $400 million, the deal would have valued ICOA at roughly 470 times its market value of roughly $850,000."

TechCrunch contacted ICOA CEO George Strouthopoulos, who e-mailed, "This is NOT TRUE!! Never had any discussions with any potential acquirers!! This is absolutely false! Someone, I guess a stock promoter with a dubious interest, is disseminating wrong, false and misleading info in the PR circles."

All Things D explained the economics behind the theory about "a stock promoter with a dubious interest":

Whoever sent the press release likely counted on it being propagated by journalists who wouldn't bother to confirm whether it was true or not, so that traders would bid the price up. The shares trade at a price so low that they amount to fractions of a penny per share. Whatever the price, the shares tripled or quadrupled in value as the false news made its way around the Web.

The hoax's mastermind clearly understands the internet-age media, with our aspirations to be first and to be fast, and to throw things up on online with the underlying safety net of knowing we can just log-in and fix any mistakes.

This mastermind seems to remain at large. Strouthopoulos told the All Things D, "We are investigating the source, so far it originated from Aruba!"

Of course it did.

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Albert Samaha


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