Late last week, the tech news world was buzzing due to a post on Secret purporting to be leaking details about the next generation of Apple's EarPods. As you can see in the image above, the post made some big promises that understandably got people excited. A large number of news outlets -- from 9to5Mac to the Daily Mail -- all ran with the story with various degrees of skepticism. We chose not to, since while it certainly paralleled descriptions of certain patents we'd heard about from Apple before, it was ultimately just a rumor.
Today the person behind that rumor came out and admitted it was all a hoax in a long Tumblr blog post explaining their motives and confusion when the whole story exploded. As our world becomes more connected, voices that were once anonymous are given the megaphone of the public square, leading to more situations were simple mischief becomes news.
If the Secret poster's blog is to believed, all of this started as a dumb joke:
I'd been messing around with secret as an outlet for comedy. The anonymous nature makes it a fun place to post things you can't on twitter. I've been posting a few jokes there for a week or two. Because of the way Secret works, your posts only go to your friends and so I've been posting stuff there to try and give my friends a laugh. I like jokes and funny ideas and so Twitter and Secret are great for this kind of stuff. I wouldn't go as far as to call it art but it's a place I can test my creativity in a way I like to.
I was sitting there doing my business thinking what today's joke would be. I take medication for ASD related stuff that can sometimes raise my blood pressure, so I was wishing I had an iPhone accessory that would measure it. I looked around on Amazon and eBay and couldn't find a good one at a price that it was worth to me. I was then thinking I wish Apple had a way to build one in to the phone. I started thinking how that would be possible. You can get the pulse from the camera with an app, but blood pressure is another thing. I thought jokingly you could wrap the headphones around your arm and measure it that way. From that, I thought a fake iPhone rumor about it would be a funny idea.
The idea of Apple including a free heart pressure monitor, something that would cost >$100-$200, seemed ridiculous to me. I added the iBeacon thing to stretch it further and the audio jack port moving idea as some contrived logic to make it sound believable. Like the strait man of the comedy sketch. When small numbers of people in my "circle" started commenting (I don't know who they are) I played along with vague descriptions of how I would know about this.
This vagueness caused people to collectively fill in the gaps. I made this mistake of not correcting people and playing up to the comments. Without releasing it, I had begun not just joking with a few friends, but accidentally trolling a far larger audience.
Like all good rumors that get out of hand, the post didn't just reach the few intended friends it was original intended for. The very nature of Secret makes it impossible to know who is posting a story in the first place, removing one of the most important rules of making a joke work: the audience should know it's a joke.
This joke was believable though; Apple has patents that could in theory be used to design exactly this kind of EarPod and with its recent acquisitions in the health field this rumor was just confirmation of what many readers already thought might be happening. It was a completely believable story -- only it couldn't be verified, so we didn't run with it.
Thankfully this situation resolved itself quickly. The author of the Secret felt bad and worried about getting someone in trouble so they came clean.
This might be a little paranoid. But one thing that worries me is with this timing, if I'm close enough to the mark with my guess, is that Apple might think someone they trust is leaking stuff, and someone might get in trouble for it. I made it all up. If I'm close. It's a lucky guess. I'm not vain enough to think that Apple hired someone based on my rumor. It was likely in the pipeline for ages. But it gave false verification to the fake rumor and made things even more complicated.
Some posts are even suggesting that this "leak" is causing other manufacters (sic) to respond which sounds ridiculous. But again, fills me with fear that I might have even taken a small part in directing how Samsung spends their R&D money.
I don't want to be like that XBOX 720 guy. But I wanted to come clean about how it happened and say sorry to anybody I've pissed off.
I'm still amazed just how easy it was for it to get big without trying.
That last line right there is why we here at TUAW rarely post specific rumor stories, but rather round them up all in one place humorously. Ultimately, it's too easy to sell a big idea that people already want to be true without any verification at all. We could say "this is a rumor, take it for what it's worth" but by reporting a story, even with a caveat, we're putting our name behind it.
So when you think about sending us an email asking why we're not covering a current hot rumor, remember the EarPod incident of 2014. We promise -- the second we can prove that something is real, we'll do our best to tell you about it. You can read the complete Tumblr confession right here.