This month there has been a lot of interesting debate about fake stories. More specifically, the traffic they can generate and the potential damage they can do to the authors crediblity. It all started when Money.co.uk posted a story entitled ‘13 Year Old Steals Dad’s Credit Card to Buy Hookers‘. The story reported that a 13 year old ordered a credit card through his fathers existing credit card company and then treated him and his friends to a $30,000 spending spree involving him, his friends, an xbox and of course, the hookers. The story was completely fabricated though it generated a lot of traffic for the site since it was picked up by a lot of mainstream news publications (online and offline). It was also Digged about 2500 times.

The problem with this story was that it wasn’t posted on a satirical site, it was posted on a serious site about financial issues where the reader had no reason to believe that the story was fake. The author of the story was a man named Lyndon of CornWall SEO, who promotes his Linkbaiting and Social Media Optimisation service on his website. He wrote an article on his blog explaining his side of the story but later removed it. Thankfully, WiderFunnel reproduced the story on their blog (it’s worth checking out). I don’t believe the owner of Money.co.uk realised the negative side of using this traffic technique, sure he got a lot of traffic but who is going to believe the articles printed on the site from now on are true.

Are the traffic benefits from fake stories worth losing your crediblity over?

There is a great article which summarizes this whole affair on Jonathan Crossfield’s blog entitled ‘Linkbait at any Cost?‘. He rightly points to the old story of ‘The boy who cried wolf’. How can your readers trust you after you have misled them in order to get some extra traffic?

Some blogs use link bait a lot however not all link bait can be tarred with the same brush. For every good example of link bait, there is an article which generated traffic using questionable tactics. Is writing fake stories for your blog wrong, unethical or even just plain stupid? This is something where opinions can be divided but personally I wouldn’t risk losing my credibility just to get extra traffic. James Mowery from Tech in Demand feels the same way. Today he wrote an excellent article on Performancing entitled ‘A Warning to the Blogosphere About the Potential Increase of Fake Content’. In the post he explains why he has lost faith in the blogosphere with regards to credibility. Unfortunately, I have felt the same way the last few months. I have unsubscribed from a number of blogs because I have lost faith in their integrity, whether it was because of a fake story or whether the author was completely raving about a product just to make some commissions.

An example of a fake story backfiring

Around the start of April, Jim Kukral, Sam Harrelson and Shawn Collins decided to create a fake spat between them all. They all openly threw mud at each other on each others blog and critized Jim’s new site TwitterMeThis. If you want to how it developed then please read the post I wrote about it all in April.

So what happened? Well, they later let everyone know that the whole thing was staged. Some commenters suggested that it was probably fake at the time but others did believe it and unsubscribed from the authors blogs because they were disappointed with them. I have to hold my hands up and say that even though I read others saying it was probably fake I did actually think the spat was true because after subscribing to Jim and Shawns blog for a few months I didn’t think they would be stupid enough to create something like this. I’m not sure if they created the spat for a laugh or if they did it to gain some extra traffic but in my opinion it backfired as it hurt their credibility.

Overview

Crediblity is something which is very delicate. It can take years to build up a good reputation and minutes to throw it all down the toilet. I am not disputing that some web developers have benefited from marketing fake stories to promote their sites however in my opnion it’s something top bloggers should avoid like the plague.

It’s also very important to check the reliability of a news source before you report it (sometimes this isn’t always as easy as you think). You may find you have to apologise to your readers if you report a story which turns out to be fake, at the very least you would have to explain what happened.

From a collective point of view an increase in fake stories will definately hurt the credibility of blog writers. Top news agencies might be more reluctant to link to articles on blogs, at the very least they will scrutinize them more. James Mowery made a good point when he said that ‘Bloggers are beginning to prove why journalists still have jobs’.

So what do you think. Are fake stories hurting Bloggers Credibility?


For reference, here is a list of the articles mentioned in this post :