THE BLOG
06/13/2011 02:55 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2011

Why Was the Week-Long Amina Hoax Possible?

It was predictable that hoaxes would proliferate in the new electronic journalism. Almost everyday some celebrity dies a Twitter death.

The Amina story may set a record, as coverage seems to have increased as it became more widely known it was untrue.

Does that mean we can look forward to the media doting on a story in inverse proportion to its truth? After all the more a writer wants to believe something the easier it is sneak one past. There is a saying in mainstream journalism: this is too good to check out.

In most professions, the craftsmen or craftswomen would quickly and briefly acknowledge their error and go on to the next story.

Not in electronic journalism. If anything, there has been as much or even more coverage. The twits who tweeted it just won't shut up.

It clearly was inevitable that with the new journalism, including crowd sourcing and the ability to get stories out instantly, there would be misuse of the new tools. Much more often there will be honest errors.

Journalists of the old school no doubt are chortling. Their alternative would be to ignore or minimize the atrocities going on in Syria and Libya because they cannot be independently verified. Tell that to Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. And for every Western journalist who dies it is likely several more local reporters were tortured and killed.

Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows, looks closely at new technologies and what they do to us.

"The intellectual ethic of a technology is rarely recognized by its inventors" because they are so intent on solving the problem, he wrote.

"The users of the technology are also usually oblivious to its ethic."

Is the technology the problem or the fact that the users do not realize that just by using it they are changed? Intellectual technologies like the printing press, typewriter and Internet have much more import on the mind than mechanical technologies.

There is much talk these days of neuroplasticity, and how the brain adapts to help people such as Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords recover. That same brain can become dependent on technologies, Carr says.

Friedrich Nietzsche turned to a typewriter in 1882 when he had vision problems and was able to continue writing. Friends said his subsequent writing was evolved from arguments to aphorisms..

"You are right. Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts," Nietzsche wrote.

It is much more important to be careful what you do with Twitter than what you do when you type up an idea on a typewriter.

However, the tools are there and they can make a difference for an oppressed people. Of course they should be used. The evil will have their Chinese 50 center armies with their replies.

Mainstream journalists have been hoaxed thousands of times. Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer. Clifford Irvin and Howard Hughes. Judith Miller and Iraq anyone? Anyone remember Elvis Presley?

The difference today is that if there had been a premature Twitter death report for Mark Twain he could have replied himself: "The report of my death was an exaggeration." Of course that would not have stopped the reports from continuing and spreading to Facebook and elsewhere.

Imagine what Twain would have had to say on his Facebook page! And if there must be hoaxes leave them to a master.

Twain got a story published about the petrified remains of a man, fully intact with a rude gesture on one of his fingers, being discovered in Virginia.