Students at Columbia sleuthed online, trying to verify Drudge Report rumors about John Kerry and a female intern named by certain newspapers. After a detailed blogging of their research, they concluded that the rumors were too thin to risk harming the reputation of a fellow graduate of the School of Journalism. They also realized that they added to the swarm of online traffic that caused the search engines to suppress links to the subject's professional work in favor of links to scandal-mongering about her.
What if they had been less responsible? The case illustrates the hazards of the new, decentralized 'press' that rushes to share everything, regardless of truth, and the increasing importance that readers use independent, suspended judgment when reading raw sources.
It may also be good to think about how the Web can "learn" to evaluate the reputation of news sources that may lack the traditional backstop of an editorial desk and nervous legal department.
See also: Batzel v. Smith (9th Cir. 2003), containing a warning that bloggers and listserv operators risk legal expense (or worse) if they fail to fact check before actively republishing statements that could be defamatory if not accurate.
Unintended Consequences: Batzel v. Smith No Blanket Blogger Immunity