Anatomy of a false meme

[Update 2006-03-11: The Unofficial Google Weblog has now retracted its post, after some further prodding by Felix Salmon. But Kudos for running the correction, though.]

The Unofficial Google Weblog gets its Google Earth news story — Sensitive India Areas Removed from Google Earth — exactly wrong. How might that happen? It takes a collaborative effort.

First, find a local reporter with a misplaced sense of national pride. Let him write a piece of wishful thinking in a notoriously biased newspaper that begins thus:

NEW DELHI: Don’t expect to see clear Google Earth satellite images of Rashtrapati Bhavan, PMO, armed forces headquarters and sensitive nuclear installations on the website any more.

Then get a weblog editor to read this at face value. Furthermore, require him not to take 30 seconds to check up on Rashtrapati Bhavan to see if it might actually be true. Finally, embellish the story with a completely untrue meme that survives from the last time we went through this:

Google has also fielded similar concerns from the US Government, and has switched up areas with lower resolutions, and blurred areas.

Precisely the opposite is true. Each successive data update has seen higher resolution imagery, never lower. There has never been a case, in the US or elsewhere, where existing imagery has been switched for blurred images. Nor has the US ever asked for areas to be blurred, something which Google has confirmed. For a blog to say it has doesn’t make it so.

Nevertheless, expect this meme to do the rounds now that a mainstream blog has validated it. Who watches the watchers, indeed? This kind of sloppiness gives blogging a bad name.