Nieman Lab pointed out a flaw in URLs that led to an apology and explanation from the UK Independent.
The UK Independent had reported in mid-April about a jelly bean that reportedly is “speckled” in the likeness of Kate Middleton.
The headline of that April 18 story reads: “Kate Middleton jelly bean expected to fetch £500.” And, its accompanying URL included that headline: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/kate-middleton-jelly-bean-expected-to-fetch-500-2269573.html
But, as the Nieman Lab writer Andrew Phelps and others came across the link, the URL had been altered to read “Utter PR fiction but People Love this S— so F— it Let’s Just Print it.”
Phelps wrote that he “just had to tweet” that URL, as did others.
But, that altered URL wasn’t created by the Independent. As Phelps explained, some URLs — like those of the Independent’s — can be altered as long as you leave the story number the same. So, a reader could see a URL that would suggest a different headline or story identifier than the news organization assigned it.
Nieman’s Phelps described how hoax URLs happen: “The spoof is possible because of a well-intentioned — and common — SEO trick. Some news organizations use numbers, not words, for story slugs.” So, in some instances, readers can change the text = in the URL as long as they leave the identifying numbers at the end of the URL intact.
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The Independent’s editor, Martin King, addressed the hoax URL. “I can only apologise and profess our embarrassment that we were caught out.”
He added that the Independent has fixed that “feature” so that there will be no more “fakes and hoaxes on independent.co.uk.”
Death and Taxes Magazine apparently thought the Independent created the URL and called it the “greatest URL in history of the Internet.”
The Register posted a screenshot of the hoax URL here.
According to Nieman, Other news sites with this problem include: the Washington Post, St. Petersburg Times, and Gizmodo.
“That’s a recipe for confusion — and maybe legal issues, if someone can insert a libelous URL into one of your stories and spread it around.”