False CNN iReport on “Deadly” Asteroid Causes Panic

Allowing its name and logo on unvetted content leads to trouble for CNN

CNN’s iReport is an attempt to put reporting in the hands of the people, but looked at from a crisis management standpoint, it’s full of reputation dangers for the network.

CNN’s iReport allows amateur e-reporters to publish unvetted, unedited articles on a CNN-branded webspace. Yes, you read that correctly. A major, “trusted” news outlet allowing ANYONE to post ANYTHING, and putting it all online with enough logos and network flair to convince your average reader it came straight from CNN reporters.

Given that iReport was launched in 2006, it managed to go for a shockingly long time without encountering much trouble, but the widespread attention given a piece falsely reporting an asteroid on a collision course with Earth could easily spark a wave of copycats.

The user-submitted story read:

Using their Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), the 10-mile wide object was found approximately 51 million miles from Earth. Scientists believe that during a close encounter with Mars, the asteroid was nudged slightly off its usual orbit and may currently be on a high speed collision course with our fragile planet. The asteroid is calculated to have a potentially lethal encounter with the Earth on March 35, 2041.

Astronomers have placed the odds of an impact at 1 in 2.04, which is by far the most unprecedented risk ever faced to humanity, let alone from asteroids. Such an impact could potentially end civilization as we know it.

The impossible date of March 35, and the fact that Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber were tagged in the post, were not enough to tip most people off, and in the 24 hours it was online the hoax story was viewed more than 230,000 times and shared over 23,000 times on social media.

CNN is obviously getting value out of the iReport page, and far be it from us to suggest putting a stop to citizen journalism, but it would be a wise crisis management move for the news organization to make very, VERY clear to readers that what they’re reading is not fact-checked or verified in any way – or, better, to put a screening process in place before anything gets published, because it’s CNN’s rep on the line.

In the end it was really a rather clever hoax, but should false reports create financial damage, widespread panic, or loss of life, CNN could be left facing more reputation issues than it can handle.

The BCM Blogging Team

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