Jonah Lehrer, previously one of my favorite science writers, has been outed for widespread journalistic fraud including plagiarism, fake quotations and misstated facts. What began in mid-June with a firing at the New Yorker due to recycling articles led to a further review of his previous work for Wired. Not surprisingly, there were countless cases of fabrication in these articles as well.
I'm disappointed, but what surprises me is not the depth of the plagiarism as much as how long it took to discover this malfeasance.
Fact checking becomes easier every year thanks to the Internet. There are swarms of motivated individuals who love nothing more than ferreting out lies. Like an immune system, these fans filter through masses of information to protect the Internet from lies and inauthenticity.
Old-school methods of deceptive push marketing don't work as well as they did before the Internet. (Rhianna's Talk That Talk album sold only 10,000 copies in the UK and spent a million dollars on a previous flopped single.) If the product (music) is crap, no one will listen.
Still, the major label model depends on smash hits to recoup costs from all the failed albums. They're venture capitalists. There is huge financial pressure to produce a "hit". Hence, we have sockpuppets.
The eqalitarian Internet is a double-edged sword. User-created content means that the ideas that dominate the conversation can come from anyone, whether they're a real person or not. A sockpuppet is a term used to describe a fake online profile used to manipulate public opinion and is often used in groups to simulate crowd approval. While the fake customer testimonial has been around for ages, sockpuppets are a comparitively new invention that came about with online forums and user reviews.
Ever notice how some products on Amazon have nothing but five-star ratings, describing how "earth-shattering" a new book is? There's a good possibility it's either the author themselves or a pay-for-review company.Yelp ratings alone can make or break a business. (Amazon, thankfully, now shows "verified purchase" next to reviews.)
Sockpuppets aren't just for companies though, political groups and governments have been using them for quite some time. This tool isn't going anywhere, either. Sockpuppets are cheap and effective when undetected, ensuring that it will remain a staple in the online marketing toolkit.
But as previously mentioned, fake fans don't drag friends to concerts, tab out the songs on your album, or pick up new merch.
Fake fans cost you money. Real fans make you money.
When the cash runs out, the only people left are your true fans.
There's no replacement for making amazing, timeless music.