Hasty reporting and subpar fact-checking caught a number of the world's leading media outlets in an awkward situation on Monday as a fake press release made it into their headlines.
"Walmart to accept payments with cryptocurrencies using Litecoin," a CNBC article headline originally read, in the same spirit as a story run by Reuters. The reports were based on what the reporters apparently assumed had been an official press release by Walmart published on press release publication site GlobeNewsWire; the release had allegedly been Tweeted by the Twitter handle @Litecoin, where reporters may have picked it up.
However, and you may have guessed this already, there was no truth to the story. The press release is fake, and Walmart has denied claims it accepts Litecoin.
Yet within minutes, the story had spread across social media after it had been widely reported on by the mainstream media outlets. As a consequence, the Litecoin price chart, otherwise flat in the last 24 hours, recorded a massive upward spike; Bitcoin similarly jumped from around $44,400 above $46,000. The joy was temporary though as it became clear CNBC and others had been duped, and prices dropped back down as quickly as they spiked up.
The incident is not without consequences however, with Twitter users expressing concerns over the lack of verification that had led to the story making it past editors at leading outlets.
In fact, a simple look at Walmart's corporate newsroom could've saved the reporters from writing a fake story. The company's latest news is dated September 8th and unrelated, and a search of the website for "Litecoin" yields no relevant results; further, web domain used in the fake press release was registered recently and leads to no official website.
Most reporters are aware of the possibility of errors to make it onto third-party PR platforms and usually double-check such stories by contacting the associated brands or simply checking their websites or social media. It is unsurprising therefore that the incident caused outrage among readers on social media:
Some Twitter users expressed their worry about the quality of other reports published by the affected outlets, with one person Tweeting, "if they do this with something like Litecoin, what else are they absolutely not verifying?"
Other users brought back a much-cited line among bitcoiners.
"Perhaps media outlets need to act more like a node by following the 'don't trust, verify' philosophy," one user wrote.
Whether the false story could have wider-reaching consequences remains to be seen, as the short-term market volatility following the announcement has many people outraged. Reuters and CNBC have since updated their stories.
At the BTC Times, we decided to responsibly cover news about altcoins from time to time, provided that we consider them relevant for Bitcoin or interesting for our readers. The goal of these articles will always be to inform, explain, clarify, debunk, and expose, sticking to the objective facts and qualified technical opinions, and never to promote, advertise, or legitimize "coins", "tokens", or other investment propositions.