Like digital wildfire 

Rumor Mill

When Absarokee-based Episcopal priest Jane Ellen Schmoetzer recounted a conversation she had with a small-town librarian on her blog, janellen.blogspot.com, on Jan. 9, she had no idea the post would trigger a long-distance game of “Telephone” that would change the way she approaches her four-year-old blogging habit.

In her post, “Libraries are dangerous places,” Schmoetzer recounts a conversation she had that morning with Larrie Hayden, director of Joliet’s tiny public library. According to the post (since removed), Larrie told Schmoetzer that she had submitted a book request to a Billings library for copies of The Last Jihad and The Ezekial Option by novelist Joel C. Rosenberg, which she received along with a letter informing her that the order had earned her a spot on a government “watch list,” and that she would have to “appear in person in Billings” before she would be able to order any more books.

Two days later a reader posted a link to Schmoetzer’s story on digg.com, a website where users share and rank blog stories, and within hours the hits on janellen.blogspot.com went from fewer than 50 per day to thousands per hour.

“I was amazed, surprised, shocked, stunned,” Schmoetzer says.

The “news” spread quickly to countless blogs around the net (some of which altered the story to indicate that the librarian would have to appear in a Billings court) and generated hundreds of comments on digg.com and elsewhere. Even USA Today’s Tech_Space blog picked up the story before the week was out.

The only problem, according to Hayden, is that it’s not true. Now Schmoetzer has posted a retraction and an apology on her blog, though she maintains that she recounted what she was told by the librarian. Hayden, after initially talking to the Independent about the story, did not return repeated phone calls this week.

Meanwhile, Schmoetzer says she’s learned an important lesson about the power of words, and the power of blogs.

“Will I stop blogging? Probably not. Will I think about ways I transmit information more carefully? Absolutely,” Schmoetzer says. “We learn from that which we experience. That’s true in faith and that’s true in my secular life as well.”

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