CNN's iReport Runs Hoax Story Musician Gotye Committed Suicide

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A CNN iReport post wrongly reported that musician Gotye died, blog Zap2it reported>.  The iReport, which has since been removed and replaced with a notice saying “Story Not Available: This Content is Currently Unavailable,” claimed Gotye committed suicide.

The report carried the headline “Gotye Dead at The Age of 32.”  The first result in a Google search for that headline is CNN’s iReport.  See below.

iReport is a section of CNN by the public.  According to iReport’s “about” page,

“Everything you see on iReport starts with someone in the CNN audience. The stories here are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. CNN’s producers will check out some of the most compelling, important and urgent iReports and, once they’re cleared for CNN, make them a part of CNN’s news coverage.”

Zap2It published a screenshot of the top of the article and the text of the iReport.  The iReport read:

“At 4:32 AM EST, it was reported that Gotye had shot himself in the head with a 9mm handgun. He was pronounced dead at 4:45 AM, and the investigation concluded that the cause of death was suicide. It was confirmed shortly after by family and friends. He was quickly taken to the Central Montmorency Hospital, but died from his injuries shortly after. His family has stated that they plan a closed funeral.”

Australias’, Gotye and “his management,” tweeted July 1 “I’m not dead.”

According to Zap2It, the iReport had classic signs of a hoax: “no legit news outlet is posting the news; the user who posted this report just signed up for his account July 1, and the report is full of sketchy information.”

We spoke with Matt Dornic, senior director of public relations for CNN Worldwide, about the Gotye story, asking if iReport will post a correction or editor’s note.  Dornic differentiated between CNN and iReport, which he called “essentially a social network for news” that anyone can post to. Dornic noted that with iReport posts, users submit posts, and CNN fact checks and “vets 20-30%” of the submissions.

Dornic added that the fake death story “is not an isolated incident” with iReport, and that “this type of stuff happens in a user-generated platform.”  With iReport, “stuff comes up that’s incorrect and it’s partly up to our folks and partly up to the community to flag it,” he said.

“So the fact that it’s not available anymore shows to me that the community acts exactly how it’s supposed to,” Dornic said.

Dornic said he didn’t know iReport’s exact policies for posting corrections and editor’s notes, for which he said “I’m sure that there’s a best practices,” but “the fact that you’ve now contacted me, I’ll probably let the iReport community know” about the incident.

We also asked Dornic about any policy for banning users who hoax iReport. Dornic said iReport members who intentionally hoax iReport would be “pulled” from the network, but that “if it looks like an innocent mistake then that’s different.”

Last year we wrote when iReport published another entertainment hoax story. In that case, iReport ran a fake story and photo claiming that 13-year-old viral video singer Rebecca Black was pregnant.  Interestingly, iReport advised on fact checking and sourcing last summer, as we wrote.

UPDATE: 7/1/2012 7:12 PM EST:  CNN’s Dornic put us in touch with Lila King, CNN’s iReport’s “participation director.”

King told us iReport does use “producer’s notes,” to clarify or add information to stories, but that “we generally reserve it for stories where we’ve actually gone through the vetting process, and we use it to add additional context and reporting to an iReport,” like how CNN “verified it.”

Concerning the Gotye suicide story, Dornic said “it was never vetted, and it was never accurate, it was never right.”  She said that it was taken down because the article was “in violation of the community guidelines.”

As such, King indicated iReport wouldn’t be adding a “producer’s note” to where the fake Gotye suicide story was.  King noted that iReport has “a group of moderators who are looking over the site constantly,” and users also flag stories.

In terms of banning users, King said iReport “on a weekly basis” will review “users who’ve uploaded things that have been pulled for various reasons that are in violation,” and iReport will “ban the user name and ban the IP address.”  As Dornic said, King explained “the measure that we look at…is whether someone’s posted something that’s in violation of community guidelines,” which she said are very clear, as opposed to a “more innocent” error.    However, King noted, “there’s an exception to every rule.”

We asked if there is any published best practices for iReport.  King recommended readers look at iReport’s community guidelines (here) and noted that iReport holds Community Roundtables to discuss possible stories, best practices, and so forth.  (King said the roundtables are usually weekly, but monthly during the summer.)

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CNN’s iReport Runs Hoax Story Musician Gotye Committed Suicide

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