Everyone Fooled by Fake Google Press Release

In an almost comic case of pretty much everybody getting it wrong, a score of major publishers ran with a big-news press release that turned out to be fake–and the incident now looks more and more like an old-fashioned financial crime.

As if to offer further proof that anyone can use PRWeb, some shady individual with an interest in making a quick, illegal buck wrote and released a post announcing that Google had just acquired ICOA, a “neutral host” broadband wi-fi provider, for $400 million. If true, this announcement would have been something of a big deal signifying Google’s desire to move deeper into the competitive world of Internet service providers. Yet no one bothered to fact-check the release (probably because ICOA isn’t a big name), and now much of the Internet has egg on its face.

What was this funny business all about? In a follow-up email, ICOA’s CEO guessed that “a stock promoter with a dubious interest is disseminating wrong, false and misleading info in the PR circles”. Sounds like someone living in the notoriously lawful land of Aruba wanted to spark a short-lived bump in ICOA’s stock price—and according to a Buzzfeed follow-up report, said individual may have earned six digits’ worth of easy profits by briefly pushing the company’s share price up from one penny to five. We’re not terribly familiar with stock trader lingo, but we’re fairly sure this one falls under “fraud.”

Most importantly, a whole string of very respectable media outlets from TechCrunch to The Washington Post ran the story this morning only to issue corrections this afternoon.

The story raises a few questions for PR pros:

  • Have you ever heard of anyone disseminating fake press releases? How would related schemes work?
  • Do we have a mistaken tendency to view anything posted on PRWeb as the complete, unvarnished truth?
  • Do services like PRWeb have a responsibility to ensure that everything they post is, indeed, accurate?
  • Did “lazy” journalists help someone perpetrate a crime in this case?