Gawker falls for BirthOrNot abortion hoax by its own trollish commenter, Zeeboid [UPDATED]

Categories: Media beefs
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Nick Denton bought the birthornot.com hoax hook, line and sinker on Gawker.
Earlier today, we revealed that Pete Arnold, the father of the fetus at the center of the birthornot abortion poll, is actually a rightwing internet troll.

We even sent a reporter to the Arnold house in Apple Valley, where we were rebuffed on video, but not before we snapped a picture of a car with the vanity plate "Zeeboid" parked out front.

Gawker, the outlet that first thrust birthornot.com into the national spotlight yesterday morning should have been familiar with the word. It was the same name Arnold uses as a commenter on their sister website Jalopnik.

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Zeeboid isn't just his vanity license plate, its also his Gawker commenter name.
"Zeeboid" turns out to be the key to unraveling the hoax. It was the name he used for his Daily Kos trolling, his Wikipedia wars, and even his Trolling manifesto, where he confesses to being exactly the kind of guy who would pull a prank like this:

Being offended is like getting presents. You are lucky when you get either from me
One wonders now if Gawker should have been more incredulous of the story when Zeeboid pitched it to them. Sure, at the end of the post, Adrian Chen suggests that it could be fake--but not before a lede that buys into the hoax's premise hook, line, and sinker:

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Gawker runs a fake story spawned by one of its own commenters.
The Arnolds are having a baby. Unless the public votes to have the child aborted. Meet the couple behind Birthornot.com, where "you can vote and choose whether we abort or keep our unborn child."

Pete and Alisha Arnold, both 30, both tech professionals, live in the Minneapolis suburb of Apple Valley and have been married for 10 years. Since September, they've blogged about their expected child at birthornot.com, posting health updates about the mother and the fetus (which will be 17 weeks-old tomorrow), and ultrasound pictures and video. But at the top of the blog is a poll hosted by PollDaddy.com. The question: "Should We Give Birth or Have an Abortion?" "Give Birth" has 46 percent of the vote at the moment, with "Have an Abortion" at 54 percent. The poll closes on December 7th.
This may be a classic example of a story "too good to check." In a company where bloggers are paid by the pageview, it almost doesn't matter if something is true or not.

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288 news outlets reported the BirthOrNot abortion poll story, according to Google News.
Postscript: Gawker wasn't the only one who fell for the hoax. The Star Tribune featured the couple in a credulous story today. So did the Pioneer Press. Nationally, it was picked up by CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and CBS. And yes, even City Pages initially reported the item as true. But we also helped debunk this atrocity. 

UPDATE: Sadly, it looks like the old adage will prove true that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on: Just 19 minutes ago, CNN International told a worldwide audience that a woman in Apple Valley is holding a poll to determine whether she gets an abortion.



The Birthornot Files:


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