Citizen "Journalist" Hits Apple Stock With False (Steve Jobs) Heart Attack Rumor

Apple’s stock took a temporary 10-point hit this morning after a false report surfaced on CNN’s iReport that Steve Jobs had a heart attack. The report has been removed, but only after Silicon Alley Insider and others confirmed with Apple that Jobs did not have a heart attack. And the stock jumped right back up to its opening levels. SIA captured the original report:

Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.

Was this just a short seller trying to make a quick buck, or someone trying to see how fast and far they could spread a false rumor? And what does it say about the value of citizen journalists?

Rather than fight the rise of citizen journalism, CNN decided to try to co-opt it by launching iReport. CNN’s iReport site lets anyone put up posts and videos about the news. Its tagline is “Unedited. Unfiltered. News.” Sometimes these reports get on CNN proper (presumably, after being vetted).

But as this incident shows even the an unvetted report carries more weight than if it had appeared on Twitter or a random blog because it is on a CNN site. And that may be purely because it gets distributed more broadly. It could also be because people tend to believe what they read on CNN-branded sites.

Let’s not let one bad apple ruin the whole experiment, though. Obviously, there are a lot of smart people out there who can contribute to general news gathering. There needs to be a better truth filter on iReport and other sites that allow the anonymous reporting of news. A better reputation system for contributors would help. They shouldbe encouraged to use their real names. And maybe a bigger disclaimer needs to be placed up top saying: “Read At Your Own Risk.”

Apple can also learn a lesson from this. The stock would not have dropped so much if there wasn’t already a deep level of concern for Steve Jobs’ health and if the market knew who might take over in case of an emergency.