In source criticism, circular reporting or false confirmation is a situation where a piece of information appears to come from multiple independent sources, but in fact is coming from only one source. In most cases, the problem happens mistakenly through sloppy intelligence gathering practices, but in a few cases, the situation was believed to have been intentionally caused by the original source.
This problem occurs in variety of fields, including intelligence gathering, journalism, and scholarly research. It is of particular concern in military intelligence because the original source has a higher likelihood of wanting to pass on misinformation, and because the chain of reporting is more liable to being obscured.
Wikipedia is sometimes criticized for being used as a source of circular reporting. Wikipedia advises all researchers and journalists to be wary of using Wikipedia as a direct source, and instead focus on verifiable information found in an article's cited references.
In the following examples, false claims were made due to circular reporting:
- Wikipedia and The Independent in 2007, propagating the false information that Sacha Baron Cohen worked at Goldman Sachs.
- Wikipedia and coati beginning in 2008, when an arbitrary addition "also known as....the Brazilian aardvark" by an American student resulted in many subsequently citing and using that unsubstantiated nickname as part of the general consensus, including published articles in The Independent, The Daily Mail, and a book published by the University of Chicago.
- Sergeant Marcus Sterzer, CD, B.A.; Master Corporal Patrick McDuff B.A., M.A.; and Corporal Jacek Flasz (Summer 2008). "The Challenge of Centralized Control Faced by the Intelligence Function in Afghanistan". Canadian Army Journal.
- "The Cocktail Napkin Plan for Regime Change in Iran". Mother Jones. June 2008.
- Micheal T. Hurley, Kenton V. Smith. "8". I Solemnly Swear. p. 128. ISBN 0-595-29947-4. "Pan Am would eventually try to play that game by trying to introduce into court news reports that they themselves had a hand in producing." Google Book search, retrieved on 23 July 2009.
- Timmer, John (May 2009). "Wikipedia hoax points to the limits of journalists' research". Ars Technica.
- Drogin, Bob; Hamburger, Tom (2006-02-17). "2006-02-17". Los Angeles Times. "This became a classic case of circular reporting," said a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters. "It seemed like we were hearing it from lots of places. People didn't realize it was the same bad information coming in different doors."
- "Wie ich Freiherr von Guttenberg zu Wilhelm machte" (in German). BildBlog.de. 2009-02-10.
"False Fact On Wikipedia Proves Itself". Slashdot. 2009-02-11.
- "Wikipedia Article creates Circular references". Tech Debug blog. 2009-01-14.
- "How a Raccoon Became an Aardvark". New Yorker. 2014-05-19.