Things I took away from the Balloon Boy debacle:

  • The right story scales fast and now that people are channels it can scale really fast.
  • Social networks scale a story best if it’s a story that catches the imagination. It doesn’t even have to be true.
  • In fact, people like hearing, sharing and following something that catches the imagination way, way, more than they like fact-checking or following a serious news story. Community is stickier than communication.
  • 360-degree media giveth and taketh away. Or, if you want to live a lie on camera, get your frakking story straight. Maybe the Heenes should have gotten Colin Powell to hide in the attic instead.
  • We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. The Heenes like a show more than the facts. So do we. A poorly-raised six-year-old doesn’t care much about lying. How old is the press? How old are we?

Does the highbeam exposure that caught Falcon Heene’s accidental confession balance out the sweet-tooth gullibility of the press and the audience? Probably not. The crowd isn’t going to dig for the truth on their own like Berkeley’s SETI volunteers. We need someone asking better questions sooner, and Wolf Blitzer obviously isn’t going to be enough.
The media microscope of wall-to-wall coverage and the panopticon of a million person-channels sharing news are like any set of tools: They still need experts or conscientious amateurs to use them intelligently if they want to build something of value, not just hot air whipping an empty box around in the wind.