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SEC to investigate claim that Steve Jobs had a heart attack

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox

As if it didn't already have enough to do, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the origins of the apparently false report this morning that Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs was rushed to the hospital after "suffering a major heart attack."

Just before 7 a.m. EDT, an anonymous Internet poster using the pseudonym Johntw published a short item on iReport.com, a community site created by CNN for user-generated news, that Jobs was taken to the hospital "suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath." The stock plunged more than 9% between 9:40 a.m. EDT and 9:52 a.m. An Apple spokesman said the report about Jobs was "not true." Apple shares recovered but ended the day at $97.07, down 3%.

CNN says it has been contacted by SEC, which is seeking the identity of Johntw.  Did Johntw, in his or her first submission to iReport, just want to play a prank? Or did this person make stock trades on the false information? If so, Johntw, who didn't respond when iReport contacted him or her, could face jail time, says Wired.

It's no secret that information shouldn't be believed just because it appears somewhere on the Internet. But who in this case should be held responsible?

CNN's iReport promotes itself as "Unedited. Unfiltered. News," which should be a warning to anyone who's considering acting on information found there that it isn't exactly solid. The site invites people to post news and asks the community to flag stories that are inappropriate.

A CNN spokeswoman said that iReport.com began as a way for viewers to submit their own material that, if vetted, might appear on the air or on CNN.com. During the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, CNN received, via iReport, cellphone video taken by a graduate student of people running as shots can be heard. After that, the spokeswoman said CNN was besieged by user-submitted content from around the world. It launched iReport.com as a separate website in February. Since, more than 6,400 iReports have been used on CNN.

IReport.com said in an e-mailed statement that the community vetting process had worked: "The community brought it to our attention.  Based on our Terms of Use that govern user behavior on iReport.com, the fraudulent content was removed from the site and the user's account was disabled."

This isn't the first time that Jobs has fallen victim to an erroneous health-related report. In August, Bloomberg accidentally published an advance obituary of Jobs. The CEO made fun of it during his next public appearance last month, standing in front of a large screen with the words: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

-- Michelle Quinn

Photo: SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

 
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