Correcting the Web's many liesApril 8, 2011: 12:45 PM ET
If you want to set the record straight on a false rumor, you can pay a hefty fee to a new site, iCorrect, to do so. But that won't stop the rumor mill from continuing to churn.
By Eno Alfred, contributor
FORTUNE -- Cherie Blair did not attend a shooting party with Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi's son. IMG has not had any discussions about representing British Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton. And contrary to popular belief, Michael Caine has never said, "Not many people know that."
Wondering who cares? Well, the subjects of the rumors do. And now an entrepreneur by the name of Sir David Tang has given them a platform to set the record straight. For a fee, of course.
Sir David, as he prefers to be called, is the Hong Kong-born, 56-year-old founder of a new website called iCorrect, which gives celebrities, corporations and anyone else under the media spotlight an opportunity to challenge and respond to rumors about them. While it is free to read, individual "correctors," as the site calls them, can write unlimited "corrections" by paying an annual $1,000 fee. Businesses have a steeper charge of $5,000 per year.
Cherie Blair, IMG and Michael Caine are just a few of the well-known names Tang, who is also a Financial Times columnist, convinced to join the site as founding members. He says that more than 30 of the 50 celebrities, socialites, politicians, intellectuals and corporations he asked to join were amenable to it. They've been posting corrections free of charge for nearly a year, in preparation for the site's launch last month.
In fact, Tang hasn't yet received payment from a single corrector, and his business model isn't exactly proven. "I came up with $1,000 dollars because that's how much it would cost you if you asked a solicitor to write a letter!" he says, laughing. "So I think if we charge you that for a year, it's a nominal sum and you'll get good value for money."
Tang, who is most known for founding the Shanghai Tang clothing chain, which he sold to the Richemont Group in 2006, has found that it pays to know people in high places. People in the public eye often have to deal with being misquoted and misrepresented, and it can be difficult to get a timely correction made by the original news source.
Curiously, several of the more than 30 correctors featured on the site spoke out against mistakes about them on Wikipedia, which they could edit for free. Others set the record straight on fake Twitter and Facebook accounts.
This is all new territory for Tang. "I'm not on Twitter or Facebook or any of those social sites, but intellectually speaking, I am amazed that we have come to create a cyberspace in our modern age that will be where people look for history," Tang explained in a recent telephone interview. "The extraordinary thing is that the majority of information in that cyberspace is hearsay."
For instance, Tommy Hilfiger says on iCorrect that the rumors that he does not want black people to wear his clothes are "untrue." But is it really Hilfiger making the correction or does one viral conspiracy beget another? "If we are worth our salt, we've got to make sure that people who are correcting are who they say they are, so I've got to be convinced that every person who wants to join, is who they say they are," Tang says. "So, either by way of introduction or referral, if you don't know us and we don't know you, you can ask your lawyer or your agent to verify and we will verify it."
But that's as far as verification goes. No one on iCorrect's small team of 10 will be checking to see that the "corrections" posted on the site are actually accurate.
Nonetheless, Tang, who was knighted in 2008 for his charity work, has high hopes for this business. He's bringing his pitch to the U.S. this week to lure American celebrities, businesspeople and anyone else who wants to quash any rumors.
Tang is particularly keen to get more institutional and corporate correctors like ING and the English Chelsea Football Club, who have both posted corrections to the site. He wants to convince companies even as large as BP (BP) to see how they could benefit from iCorrect.
And Tang has used the service himself, in one of the site's first entries. According to The Mail on Sunday, "David Tang is a creep." Tang's correction: "This is greatly exaggerated." Duly noted.
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