Cointelegraph screwed up — let’s talk about verifying news

A couple of days ago crypto news outlet Cointelegraph put out a tweet that stated, “BREAKING: SEC APPROVES ISHARES BITCOIN SPOT ETF.” It followed this, 23 minutes later, with a slightly amended version that read, “BREAKING: SEC APPROVES ISHARES BITCOIN SPOT ETF, REPORTEDLY.”

What it failed to point out was that the “REPORTEDLY” part was reported by Cointelegraph.

The call was coming from inside the house.

Nine minutes after this, Cointelegraph reached out to BlackRock, confirmed that the Bitcoin ETF hadn’t been approved, and deleted the tweet.

One hour and one minute after the initial ETF message, Cointelegraph posted a tweet apologizing for the dissemination of inaccurate information and stated that an investigation was beginning.

The nitty gritty

First of all, it’s worth commending Cointelegraph for opening the details of its failure up to the public with this article. It’s also worth acknowledging that the outlet apologized, acknowledged that it was “posting unverified news,” and has shown internal communications for the world to see.

Journalism is hard and everyone makes mistakes and errors. The only way to move past them is to admit they occurred and hope an apology or redaction is enough and the audience forgives you.

But most mistakes and errors don’t move $500 billion markets 5%.

So how did this happen? Despite Cointelegraph stating that it will be “thoroughly auditing and reviewing [its] social media management processes,” even as a big fan of audits myself, there is no need for an audit here.

It is a serious problem that occurred, protocols should be revised, and standardized procedures need to be explicit and essential for all employees — especially when it comes to the dissemination of information.

But the only real rule that was broken is simple and, essentially, easy to solve: verify everything before you ever consider publishing it.

Read more: Cointelegraph says Bitcoin ETF approved despite no proof

Not so easy after all

The ETF debacle is, unfortunately for Cointelegraph (but also many other individuals and media outlets that picked up and spread the information), relatively easy to verify or disprove: all they had to do was call BlackRock.

But not all stories are that cut and dry.

Many breaking news stories, investigations, and research reports rely on sources that are speaking off-the-record or ‘on background,’ others seek out whistleblowers or individuals facing threats against their lives — it’s often difficult to offer the public every ounce of information that has been collected.

The first story that comes to my mind personally is The Tether Papers, published by Protos in November of 2021. This incredibly detailed and informative investigation took three individuals months of research and investigation, yet also relied on ‘sources familiar with the matter,’ as expressed in an earlier article. This means that, despite doing everything in our power as a media outlet, we were still unable to divulge every single bit of information.

This is where levels of trust are necessary, credibility is built over time, and sources are vetted regardless of whether they’re speaking off-the-record, on background, or on-the-record.

The rush for first

There is an unrealistic belief in the current media landscape — including at least one editor at Cointelegraph — that if you aren’t the first to report the news you might as well be the last. I don’t know where this was learned or who taught it, but it absolutely isn’t true of all high-quality, hard-hitting journalism.

The most important part of journalism isn’t being first or being fast, it’s being careful, double and triple-checking facts, and ensuring that the story being published, regardless of author bias, is accurate.

However, with the rise of citizen journalism and the collapse of the verification processes on platforms like X (formerly Twitter), misinformation and disinformation are more and more difficult to parse from truth.

This has been most obvious in relation to the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, where unverified claims, videos from different warzones, and random statements get passed around like they’re the truth. It often takes hours or days for this mis- and disinformation to be proven as such.

As a Boston newspaper stated in 1808, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it. If a lie be believed sometimes only for an hour, it has accomplished its purpose.” (Funnily enough this quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, who never uttered such a phrase.)

Read more: Opinion: We need to talk about that New Yorker Sam Bankman-Fried article

Uneducated media and the trusting public

Not that long ago, while many newspapers, zines, and blogs were relegated to local news coverage or niche topics, cable television was still relevant, and major newsrooms featured hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters, researchers, and journalists who were fact-checking, sourcing, and doing everything in their power to ensure that all the news being disseminated was as close to objective as possible. Many of these individuals had educations exclusively in journalism and worked in newsrooms or for media outlets for decades.

As someone without an education in journalism, working for a tiny outlet covering a near-trillion-dollar industry, I can assure you that this isn’t the case anymore.

Newsrooms are smaller and even the smallest newsrooms around are often vying for the same readers or viewers as the major outlets. Some feel it’s necessary not only to cut staff and sections of coverage but to cut corners, as well. And this is when we run into some serious problems.

While in a utopia normal citizens would be able to verify every article or news report they read, it’s not the public’s responsibility to fact-check and ensure every detail of what they’re reading is true. This is precisely why the fourth estate exists: we’re here to make sure that what the public is reading is given context and proven to be as accurate as possible.

As reporters and journalists, we cannot blame the public for not fact-checking every tweet or story they see. But we definitely need to hold ourselves responsible for reporting errors and dissemination of fake news — and it’s nice to see that Cointelegraph is at least taking this step.

Sadly, the article apologizing for the fake news that moved BTC 5% in minutes has over 70,000 views on Cointelegraph, making it one of their most popular articles in weeks. So perhaps the reality is that “all news, including fake news and apologies, are good news and great for SEO.”

We’re entering a dark age for the ability of average people to be able to discern fact from fiction, truth from lies, and propaganda from authentic news coverage. Indeed, it’s really only a question of how long will it last and whether there are there enough sound, virtuous reporters left to counter it.

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