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United Airlines Tallies Damage From False Stock Report

A 2002 news article about United Airlines filing for bankruptcy protection resurfaced erroneously on trading screens Monday -- and the company's shares quickly plummeted as a result. Business reporter Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post examines the mishap.

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    Six years ago, United Airlines announced it was filing for bankruptcy. Yesterday, an old article on the event resurfaced on the Web, and, taken as new, sparked a mass frenzy of selling on Wall Street.

    Shares in United stock plunged 75 percent, from $12 to $3, in less than an hour, before recovering much of that by the end of the day.

    Frank Ahrens, business reporter at The Washington Post, tried to figure out what happened. And he's here with us now.

    OK. So, how did this old story suddenly come back to life?


    The simple answer is, it was a Google search. And Google discovered a six-year-old story on the Web site of a South Florida newspaper that did not have a date on it.

    And, so, when Google found it, it applied the date of the search, put it on that story, popped it up on Google news. A human being saw it, took it as being a fresh story, "United Declares Bankruptcy," punches it into Bloomberg. It hits Wall Street.

    And, within a matter of minutes, more than 15 million shares had traded. And United Airlines, already shaky, had lost 75 percent of its value.