Google announced they’re expanding their search into old newspaper archives (via Reuters), and in a stunning coincidence today, United Airlines shares lost nearly all of their value.
How are these two things related, you ask?
Well, according to an article in today’s NYTimes called “United Shares Plunge on False Bankruptcy,” a false rumor started spreading this morning that United had declared bankruptcy. According to the Times, a Google search started the cascade of events…
“United said the rumor occurred when the Web site of The Sun-Sentinel, a Florida newspaper, posted a six-year-old article from The Chicago Tribune archives about Unitedâ€™s previous bankruptcy filing. The airline operated under bankruptcy protection from 2002 through 2006….
….The outdated article received wide attention when it appeared that it was posted on Bloomberg News by a reporter for Income Securities Advisors, an investment research firm in Miami that tracks information about distressed companies.
Richard Lehmann, the founder of Income Securities, said the companyâ€™s reporter discovered the article during a routine search on Google for information about bankruptcy filings in 2008. A link to the old Chicago Tribune article appeared as the first search item, bearing a current date, not its original date, Mr. Lehmann said.
When the reporter clicked on the link, it navigated to the United Airlines article on the front page of the Sun-Sentinel Web site, next to a radar map showing the location of Hurricane Ike, Mr. Lehmann said.”
The context for the Google search certainly looked like it was “ripped from today’s headlines.” And can you imagine the confusion for United employees, wondering why their shares were halted from the NY stock exchange today amidst bankruptcy rumors?
I applaud the notion of scanning newpaper archives (quite literally scanning, in this case) so there’s no possible confusion by well-meaning researchers as to the date(s) of their results.
Meanwhile, the coincidence of the two articles appearing within moments of each other in my RSS reader was not lost here.