Google announced early this week that it would begin verifying accounts for “public figures, celebrities, and people who have been added to a large number of Circles.” Unfortunately for Nobel Prize-winning economist and controversial New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the rollout didn’t happen nearly fast enough.
After yesterday’s earthquake that rocked a large swath of the East Coast, from New York City to Washington D.C. (and beyond), conservative journalist Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner jokingly tweeted that “Krugman says it wasn’t big enough.” Soon after, Carney sent out another tweet, which read, “Umm Krugman says it wasn’t big enough. Seriously. He does. I’m not joking. Click on the link: bit.ly/oPjvU9 [Honestly. I swear.]“
Problem was, Krugman said no such thing — not about the earthquake, at least.
The link Carney provided in the tweet directed to a post on a fake Paul Krugman account on Google+, which was created by recent college graduate and political commentator Carlos Guterol.
The post read: “People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.”
The hoax post was quickly picked up by a variety of other prominent right-wing publications, including American Thinker, Weazle Zippers, Hot Air and the National Review. Of these, only Kevin Williamson at the National Review offered up any skepticism, saying in his article about the alleged Krugman comment, “I honestly cannot tell if I am being had here. I hope I am.”
After realizing that the post was, in fact, made by a Krugman impostor, Carney deleted his erroneous tweet. Fake Paul Krugman (Guterol) also deleted his comment from the Google+ account, but later defended the post in an article on Campaign Fix, saying that he did not regret writing the comment because Krugman really had made similar arguments in the past: once about the nuclear disaster that hit Japan following the devastating earthquakes and tsunami that happened in March; and once about the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“While Paul Krugman did not write the above statement, he has made similar statements within the year and I would not be surprised if Paul Krugman did not in fact hold this view,” wrote Guterol.
This morning, (real) Krugman responded to the unwarranted hullabaloo on his NYTimes.com blog, saying, “I hear that the not-so-good people at National Review are attacking me over something I said on my Google+ page. Except, I don’t have a Google+ page.”(Emphasis his.)
He adds: “This is the third incident I’m aware of — there may well be more — in which people are claiming to be me… So if you see me quoted as saying something really stupid or outrageous, and it didn’t come from the Times or some other verifiable site, you should probably assume it was a fake.”
This incident — like countless similar incidents before it — offers lessons we would all be wise to heed.
First, it shows why verified accounts are valuable, especially for the most prominent members of society, those most vulnerable to being misquoted and misrepresented. Of course, this doesn’t mean Google should require verified accounts for everyone — there are a variety of good reasons why they shouldn’t — but it does prove that account verification is good policy for well-known users, at the very least.
Second, the incident shows the vulnerabilities of our new media culture, which rewards those of us (no matter our political persuasion) who crank out copy the fastest, fact checking be damned.
As someone who lives and works in this environment, I can attest to the temptations to work so fast that quality gets thrown to the wayside. But everyone, from Paul Krugman to you and I, will suffer when those of us in the media succumb to such foolish impulses. And truth itself will suffer most of all.