Lots of lessons from fake shark video

By · Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Another hoax. Surprise, surprise.

How many people published, posted, shared, liked, tweeted, retweeted and commented on the YouTube video of a shark sighting in Lake Ontario — without a bit of skepticism?

Hooray for those who at least suspected it was a hoax.

Even more important, how many people were genuinely concerned? Here’s a sense from a story published on syracuse.com that asked its audience: “A Hoax or the Real Deal?”

“I think a lot of people aren’t sure if it’s a true story or not,” she said. “But it’s got a lot of parents being wary.” 

About a week after the shark story broke, cable channel Discovery Canada announced yesterday that it was all part of a promotion for its upcoming Shark Week programming in August.

Fake videos as promotions. Remember the YouTube sensation “Lonelygirl15” that attracted a lot of attention? A few viewers got wise and uncovered the truth — that was not teenager “Bree” pouring out her heart in a series of videos posted online. She was a scripted 20-year-old actress helping create buzz for a hoped-for movie.

Hoaxes and gimmicks can make incredible video stories. Editors must be especially vigilant to prevent them from being posted as news — or posted at all. Sometimes editors must be the messengers who alert readers about fakes. Use your resources to check things out for your audience. The site snopes.com routinely investigates and reports about all kinds of truths and myths, for example.

People don’t like to be fooled — or alarmed. Even Discovery Canada says it cut short its promotion when it found out people on Wolfe Island were concerned.

Perhaps the best way to think about this is through the comment of University of Guelph marine biologist Jim Ballantyne, who had theorized the creature could not be a shark.

“It sort of seems a bit unethical to frighten people,” he said after learning of the prank.


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