I know it’s easy to be smart after the event, but were there enough clues on the Internet for journalists to have figured out the Benjamin Vanderford video was a fake before AP and others published the news?
There were some clues, at least. From the video we were able to know his name and his home town, even his home address. From that checks on Google would have thrown up the following at the very least:
- Him, or someone with the same name, was running for office: A piece on The Examiner website on May 31 mentions “Benjamin Vanderford, 22-year-old political independent, musician and video-game programmer” as being a District 4 candidate and a member of something called the Candidates Collaborative.
- sfbulldog, an online resource for politics and the arts, also mentions Vanderford, or someone with the same name on May 22, who was, according to the author H Brown, “smarter than me (not saying a lot, I know) … has great web site and hell of a sense of humor. Fine young writer. A future in politics if he’s serious and could shock everyone if his web site catches on.” Unfortunately the website address mentioned is not cited. (It was possibly this one, mentioned on the Northeast Intelligence Network in its early assessment of the video but not cited. The link itself is no longer active.)
Already, however, we’re getting a picture of someone who seems likely to be the Vanderford in question, since he’s from that town, appears to be the same age, and is the only Benjamin Vanderford in San Francisco area. He’s also a guy with a sense of humour, running for office, smart and with a website worth checking out. What’s he doing in Iraq, and why is there no mention of that fact?
That, I suspect, should be enough. Did any journalists try calling his home to confirm? Vanderford says he had circulated the video on P2P networks such as KaZaA for several weeks. Would a savvy journalist have been aware of this? Perhaps not. But as the The San Francisco Chronicle points out, usually material which is gathered from the Internet carries qualifying phrases. But this time the fact that the video had appeared on a Islamic website that has in the past posted communiques and videos from Islamic radical groups appeared to be enough to convince several news agencies to go ahead.
Bottom line: Any material that appears on the Internet should be checked, wherever it appears. In this case, with the guy’s name and address so clearly stated, it would seem to make sense to make some rudimentary checks first before announcing he has been killed.