When the Web Got it Wrong

Did you hear? Britney Spears had a fatal run-in with a pretzel, a guy named Homosexual ran in the Olympic 100-meter dash, and President Obama attended a Muslim academy.

What--You missed that news? Well, that might be because all those stories are untrue. But that didn't stop them from appearing on the Web, and in some cases, on reputable and popular sites.

Nobody's perfect, of course. But on the Web, imperfection can come at a high price: false news reports can torpedo a stock, harm someone's reputation, or reduce fans of a supposedly dead celebrity to tears. As news publishing systems become more automated, they're easy prey for hackers, hoaxers, and half-assed algorithms. Or they can be done in by human error, magnified a million times by the viral nature of the Net.

"Once something is online and people start finding it, it's just a matter of time before it starts spreading through links, blogs, Twitter, e-mail, or IM," says Craig Silverman, editor of , which tracks journalistic goofs. "The Web is a fantastic medium for making information go viral. It's also a great tool for fact checking. Unfortunately, the latter takes more time to do, and a lot of people--journalists included--link before they think to check something out."

The results can be humorous or disastrous; they can lead to fake death notices or fiscal debacles. Here are our picks for the Web's ten biggest snafus.

Note: For more on the Web's credibility problems, take a look at: