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If it’s on the Internet, it MUST Be True… Right?

A guy dancing at ABC No Rio in NYC.

Surely you know the answer to that.

It seems rather simple. We all know that just because it’s on the internet, it’s not necessarily true. There are all sorts of lies, half-truths, and outright wacky stuff floating around out there. The internet is one giant collection of information that may or may-not be true. We do our best to wade through it all and make informed decisions, but sometimes we find ourselves reading about the latest invasion by little green men and thinking, “Hmmm, I didn’t hear about that, but it sounds so convincing…it must be true.”

Ok, so maybe “little green men” is pushing it, but the fact remains that there is truth out there, we just need to know where to find it. Or publish it ourselves. As real estate bloggers it is essential that we hold ourselves to the highest of journalistic standards (even when we don’t give much credence to journalists’ standards). Real estate blogging has evolved from it’s early days of “is there anybody out there?” to a true powerhouse of information – whether local or national in scope – we are in control of our own industry with the words and actions on our own blogs (and as has been evidenced right here at AgentGenius, in control of our own National Association of Realtors® – the words we write can and do matter).

Carefully crafting your message.

Although we are looked to for opinions as agents, a good chunk of our blogging efforts comes down to the facts. People want to know numbers and statistics, how to sell their home, and how contracts work. They want information, not conjecture. This week, all that went out the window with news that the Senate had tentatively agreed on an extension of the First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit. Within moments of the stories hitting the news wire, I began to see tweets and posts from agents about how the extension had been passed. The Senate had yet to even vote on whether to vote on it. Forget the House and the President. They hadn’t even started the actual process that brings an idea into law. They sat and had coffee and discussed it and everyone said “yeah, sounds good to me” (not quite how it happened, but you get the picture). Most tweets I saw had links to articles in the more traditional media outlets, so I clicked and read. In article after article there was absolutely no mention of the words “passed” or “it happened” or “it’s been extended.” Some had some iffy-headlines (and I believe this was done to draw eyeballs and for SEO reasons), but every one of them was clear that it had not been voted on…yet.

So did all those agents caught up in that flurry of activity know they were crafting a message with misinformation or were they just not sure what the deal was and reported it just because it was what they wanted to hear? Were they jumping on it in order to be first in their local area to report it? Did they even know what they were retweeting? Did they do it just hoping to attract new clients, truth be damned?

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Jay Thompson and I began talking about it and both of us disliked what we were seeing. So we set out to tell a few people as our frustrations mounted. The responses I received were a) silence, b) “you’re wrong, I just read it on CNBC”, or c) “oh, I heard it from _________, a trusted source”. None of those were responses I expected to hear. I can’t speak for Jay, but I know by the end of the day I was tired of talking and typing. Were my efforts in vain? Did those that I spoke with view me with disdain or as some sort of smarty pants? To be quite frank, I don’t care. I didn’t do it to boost my own ego, I did it to try and keep the wrong information from spreading like wildfire. Sure, I barely put a dent in the noise, but I did what I could and I’m happy with that.

You are the reporter.

I was going to write a lengthy diatribe here, but instead, I’m going to leave you with a tweet I received from Jim Duncan during our discussions of what was happening.

@JimDuncan: @rerockstar It’s a delicate balance. The time when one could say “it’s just a blog” is over. No excuse for reporting rumors as “facts.”

Amen, Jim, amen.

photo courtesy of Otto Yamamoto

Additional note: The photo is really not related in any sense to the article except for the fact that it showed up in a search of Flickr for the word “truth.” Somehow, I thought it was perfect for the article. Go figure.

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Written By

Matt is a former PA-based rockstar turned real estate agent with RE/MAX Access in San Antonio, TX. He was asked to join AgentGenius to provide a look at the successes and trials of being a newer agent. His consumer-based outlook on the real estate business has helped him see things from both sides. He is married to a wonderful woman from England who makes him use the word "rubbish."

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Scott Baxter

    November 4, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Oh no, I feel bad now because I retweeted the #ballonboy story. Found your blog on twitter, of course.

  2. Kim Hannemann

    November 4, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    How right you are. Just this morning my broker was telling us he “heard” that it passed – but it was only a procedural vote. As of this moment it has in fact “passed” another procedural hurdle and might be voted on by the Senate tomorrow, after which it still has to get through the House and a Presidential signature, albeit the last two are assured.

    We have to get it right when we write.

  3. Fred Romano

    November 4, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    I hope it doesn’t pass… I am sick of our tax payer money funding everything!

  4. Mark Brian

    November 4, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Because of the position of trust we are in, it is so important to double and triple check your story before posting it as fact. Especially on a subject that is as white hot as the possible extension of the tax credit.

    Don’t count your chickens before they hatch people!

  5. Ken Montville

    November 4, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    You mean to say that if it’s on the Internet it must be rumor and inuendo?

    Seriously, remember when the Sec’y of HUD mentioned something about “monetizing” the tax credit into the FHA loans at the NAR Mid-Year in DC? Hell, it was all over Twitter before the guy left the podium that home buyers might, perhaps,if HUD could arrange a plan be able to use the $8,000 tax credit for a down payment.

    It’s this whole thing of wanting to get out there 1st with information…as if that really means anything.

    Truth be told, though, even “reputable” bloggers cum journalists sometimes use the platform for their nefarious purposes.

  6. Jim Duncan

    November 4, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Agreed on all counts, Matt. Good on you and Jay for trying to correct the inaccuracies. Y’all have more patience than I do.

    Here’s a tangential thought – extend the new social media CoE Standards of Practice … sure, the statements weren’t about other Realtors or business practices, but they sure were inaccurate.

    It’s a damn shame that people refer to what a lot of us do professionally as “just blogging”.

    Sometimes the responsible thing is to wait.

    Mark – I’d argue that a relative few of those who were posting inaccurate information recognize or care that they may be perceived as being “trusted sources;” many write because they feel that they “should, because everyone else is” and not because they intend to be accurate, authentic, authoritative sources of information and analysis.

  7. Matt Stigliano

    November 4, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Kim – I don’t know why, but I’ve made all versions of the tax credit a bit of a mission for myself. There has been so much misinformation about it since its inception and I have tried to always know as much as I could about it. My old broker made some comments about it in a meeting that were wrong, I’ve had lenders tell me point blank it could be claimed before buying a home (needless to say, I don’t use those lenders), and just generally fought some of the misconceptions about it.

    Fred – I think it will political suicide for anyone to stand in its way. Sad to say it, but I do believe it. I myself wish it was not extended. What message are we sending by continuously extending it? The people that didn’t jump on it this year…will they still be waiting for bigger and better come April 2010?

    Mark – I wonder if some of those same people who I watched sending out that info were serious about their social media and blogging efforts or just doing it because they wanted to feel like the mouthpiece for the news (so that clients would “flock” to them)…much like Jim said. I didn’t spend time researching how each person was utilizing their blogs or Twitter accounts, but I kind of wish I had, it might have been an interesting look at two different belief systems when it comes to real estate blogging/tweeting.

    Jim – Thanks for stopping by. I loved your tweet and it stuck with me as I continued to think about the issue. I had some thoughts about the idea of the Code Of Ethics and I would think that in the future, NAR will have to look at the issue a little closer and perhaps refine some more of the language in the Code Of Ethics. Then again, what would I know…I’m “just a blogger.”

  8. Scott Hack

    November 5, 2009 at 10:32 am

    It is amazing what people will retweet, or pass along without verifying. Most of the info I got yesterday was accurate. No one was spouting that it was a done deal — just that they were going to vote on it and it looked like it would pass and that the house shouldn’t have any objections, etc.

  9. Jon Karlen

    November 5, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Great message, Matt. Goes to show that you really need to be sure of what you put out there as being accurate to the best of your ability. One question though: you listed the various responses that you received – but, I’m curious, did you & Jay ever actually get anyone to admit they were wrong?

  10. Jay Thompson

    November 5, 2009 at 11:11 am

    This just came across Twitter as I got to the bottom of the comments:

    “Tax credit extended to April!!!”

    And it had a link to an article titled: Senate Approves Extended U.S. Homebuyer Tax Credit

    Someone needs to read the Constitution. Or retake high school civics.

    Got an email this morning from a local lender saying the credit extension and expansion was approved and to call him.

    Why would I send my clients to a lender that can’t A) read; B) comprehend; and/or C) gives a damn about being accurate?

    I’ve almost given up trying to help people understand how all this misinformation is a bad thing. It frustrates the hell out of me.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 5, 2009 at 11:40 am

      For anyone in the world to believe they’ll be the ones to ‘break the story’ on the tax credit, they’d have more luck keeping ice from melting in the phoenix sun. Every agent in the country is tuned into this story, and the interest is just that high- but hey, at least they’re actually paying attention to something.

  11. Portland Condo Auctions

    November 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    The problem is that the mainstream media sources mislead people without actually lying. Often they will just write a headline like “8000 dollar tax credit passes”. If you read the article, it had passed, but only by a committee and has not hit the senate floor yet. While technically correct, it is misleading and most people dont read more than the headline and maybe the first paragraph. People are just mis-informed and they don’t mind being that way.

    -Tyler

  12. Kathleen A. Scanlon, Esq.

    November 9, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    This is something I have been saying to clients, colleagues etc for a while now – you have to take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt. Some sources are more reliable than others. I find it especially frustrating when lay people interpret the law and post their interpretations as fact. We must all realize that we bear a heavy burden of responsibility to be accurate in what we post and to provide the necessary proofs for such interpretations. “They said” is not sufficient proof.

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