PR Web issued a retraction of its Google-ICOA post, saying that "even with reasonable safeguards" it was a hoax.

Story highlights

Fake news report about Google sheds light on Web news pitfalls

Press release saying Web giant bought Wi-Fi company was a hoax

In rush to publish, many online outlets failed to double-check accuracy

NEW: CEO apologizes, promises changes

CNN  — 

It was big news in the tech world – or at least it would have been if it had been true.

Google, so the story went, had purchased ICOA, a Wi-Fi provider, for $400 million. Some news organizations pounced, with everyone from long-established outlets like The Associated Press to new-media tech blogs like TechCrunch reporting the news Monday.

But hours later, both companies would deny the story, which PR Web, a site that distributes press releases for a fee, says was planted by someone falsely claiming to represent ICOA.

Hoaxes have slipped their way into the public eye for as long as journalism has existed. But media experts say the way bad information spread so quickly casts a light on how reporting can go wrong in the fast-paced world of Web journalism.

Long gone are the days when newspapers and the evening TV news were the only game in town – when reporters had hours, if not days, to sift through a report before sharing it with the masses. In their place is an info-hungry Web that wants news now and rewards the quick with a currency of page views, Twitter links and Facebook “likes.”

“With something like this, there are a lot of blogs and websites that build their reputation on the tech world,” said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit devoted to the study and teaching of journalism.

“If Google is spending $400 million to buy something, there are people who are expected to have something to say about that and they want to be in that mix.