Seems the big online controversy over the holidays was a series of posts by Fake Steve Jobs (aka Forbes writer Dan Lyons, aka FSJ). Lyons writes a blog pretending to be the Apple CEO Steve Jobs, offering critiques of the tech world and journalism in general. While at times he can be pedantic, he can also be brilliant (FSJ offered the best explanation of Google’s business model I’ve ever seen: “Google’s basic goal in life is to drive the cost of everything in the world to zero — except the one thing Google sells, which is incredibly overpriced advertising with super high margins that are fed by Google’s refusal to share information with partners”).

So, in response to Apple’s apparent buyout of the Think Secret website, which Apple had accused of stealing trade secrets, FSJ wrote a series of blog entries pretending that Apple had approached him as well, had threatened him with a similar lawsuit and then offered to buy him out (posts start here, then here, here, here here, and here. The posts were fairly tongue in cheek, and FSJ went so far as to mention his lawyer, Tony Clifton (an old Andy Kaufmann pseudonym) and to include a photo of Kaufmann. The point was that through the use of parody, FSJ would highlight Apple’s wrongdoing here. Yet somehow, these fake posts by a fake author openly pretending to be someone else got taken seriously at sites all over the internet.

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Slashdot ran with the story on their front page, as did MacInTouch, among others. Columnist Rob Enderle (famous for being wrong so often in his predictions) wrote a scathing diatribe against Apple for their actions in trying to shut down FSJ. Eventually, FSJ had to spell it out, in a post here, where he pretty much came out with a statement of duh, this site is satirical, get with the program folks. This has resulted in the comments area of his blog being filled with indignant readers declaring that they feel betrayed and that they’ll never read his blog again.

I found the whole thing to be mind-boggling. Anyone with a clue, anyone who had ever read anything from FSJ in the past should have obviously known what was going on here. So many people without a sense of context were ready to jump in with their pre-disposed opinions that it didn’t really matter what was really happening, nor did they take the time to really investigate and understand. Such is the internet.

But it should serve as a reminder about sources of information. Which sources do you trust, and how deep are you willing to look? How much effort are you willing to put into it? Is it better to have editorial oversight from a reliable source, or are you willing to put up with mistakes that, one assumes, will eventually be corrected? Is something like Google’s new Knol service going to be more useful than Wikipedia because it relies on “experts” (assuming they actually can get experts in a field to write for them–speaking of which, does anyone out there still read the Faculty of 1000 sites?).

As an editor, it makes me feel a little better about my place in the world. The internet has opened up a vast torrent of information, and clearly, events like this show us how valuable it is to have information vetted and organized by a trustworthy source that is willing (or being paid to) take the time to do it right.