Used (and abused?)

Used (and abused?)

: Jonah Peretti at Eyebeam ran another brilliant experiment in contagious media and Marc Glaser has all the details about how Forget-Me-Not Panties, Crying While Eating, and Blogebrity racked up traffic, links, and publicity in a timed contest. Great stuff and most entertaining.

But be honest: Sometimes, once you find out that these things are hoaxes, don’t you feel duped and used?

In the case of Blogebrity, the straight lines were neon-obvious. And that’s why I didn’t link to it (and didn’t get duped by it): I didn’t want to be used. The poor fools in the press who reported on it as if it were real — and the readers who believed them — surely felt used and abused.

So I’m wondering, just wondering: What’s the line between a joke, a hoax, and a lie? What’s the line between a contagious media experiment and a phoney phone call? Does it matter? Is there an ethnical responsibility to duping people and duping the press and affecting the credibility of a reporter or a publication or an entire medium: the internet? Or is this a nonfret?

Of course, half the responsibility for getting a joke lies with the jokester and the other half rests with the audience. Some poor souls are just born humorless. A few weeks ago, Howard Stern had on his Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator vowing to blow up the moon to end PMS and idiots in a British paper and an American cable show reported this, even huffily editorialized about it, as if it were news. It was a joke. Any fool could see that. Well, most any.

So what’s the difference between that and a phoney phone caller who gets himself onto a news show in a crisis by impersonating a county official with news on a crime?

Motive matters, I think. The Schwarzenegger bit was a joke those shlubs didn’t get. The phoney phone call was meant to deceive and succeeded with news schlubs. Is there a difference? Is one meant to amuse and one meant to humiliate? Does that matter?

And where does a contagious media experiment fall on that scale? If it’s just a joke, it’s just a joke and it’s up to the beholder to figure that out. But this experiment, in particular, was designed to get links and attention. Does that mean it was mean to deceive or that it was just a damned good joke?

I really don’t know my own answer to these questions. I think they’re worth asking just because some serious souls use these episodes to question the credibility of the press or the good will of the people. Or maybe they’re just being too serious. Maybe it’s time to go get a drink.

: LATER: Yes, break out the beer.

I wrote that and then I read Stacy Shiff’s column in The Times yesterday wringing hands about the state of truth.

More than 60 percent of the American people don’t trust the press. Why should they? They’ve been reading “The Da Vinci Code” and marveling at its historical insights.

Well, that itself is a ridiculous stretching of truth. One has nothing to do with the other except that Shiff doesn’t trust the sense of the public.

The eternal truth is that truth is in the eye of the beholder. It’s up to each of us to judge whether we will believe a newspaper or a hoaxter or a novelist or a columnist or a blogger. It’s up to them to maintain the credibility in the face of doubt and punchlines.

Still, if I had been taken in by Blogebrity, I would have felt used and abused. I suppose because I didn’t, I’m supposed to feel smart. But I only feel lucky.

  • My own Contagious Media projects are either obviously satrical (Nike Sweatshop Email, BlackPeopleLoveUs) or actual working services (Rejection Line, And I make it a policy to be completely truthful with reporters and bloggers.

    But I respect people who keep the media honest by creating clever hoaxes. For example, the Yes Men do very interesting work which requires tricking reporters into thinking they are repersentatives of the WTO or Dow Chemical. They are making a political point, but it also raise the question: Why do so many reporters neglect doing a google or LexNex search before they write a story?

  • My all-time favorite hoax site is the Landover Baptist Church.

  • I enjoyed the Showdown, especially Crying While Eating, which wasn’t a hoax exactly. I don’t know what I’d call it, but I wouldn’t call it a hoax. I was so intrigued with it, I did a video interview with the creators. I also did a video recap of the opening night of the competition for those who couldn’t make it but wish they could have been there.

  • What about Amnesty and the “gulag” comparison? When challenged, it was admitted to be for publicity: “I wouldn’t be on this show if I hadn’t” been so extreme.
    Red meat lust.

  • EverKarl

    I can’t pass that barn without taking a shot at the broad side:
    More than 60 percent of the American people don’t trust the press. Why should they? They’ve been reading “The New York Times” and and marveling at Jayson Blair’s reportage. And Judith Miller’s. And Walter Duranty’s…