Fake news alert

One of my oldest friends called me the other day. So far, so not unusual, but there was a tone in his voice that I couldn’t quite place. After a round of meaningless pleasantries, he suddenly said “So I guess we’re not going skiing this year then?”

He and I haven’t been skiing for 16 years, and haven’t even discussed the possibility for at least ten. Confused, I asked him what he meant. “I saw on Facebook that you were in Austria”.

Even more confused, I confessed that the furthest I had been in the last fortnight was Shrewsbury. He then explained that I had been tagged in on a mutual friend’s post, and that tagging had placed me in Austria. After much WTFing, I explained that, no I had not been skiing behind his back, but had been tagged in on a running joke (involving a Dutch Status Quo tribute band, if you must know).

What astonished me most about this episode was that my friend, an intelligent man, had just accepted what he read on Facebook as gospel. This has been brought into sharper light this week with the horrific Momo situation, one that ultimately has been de-bunked as another Internet hoax, fuelled by well-meaning parents anticipating the collapse of Western civilisation as we know it.

With Momo, rumours had spread about the horrific things it was driving children to do. However, there was no evidence that such things had happened, nor evidence of mass suicides in Russia. Indeed, charities took to news feeds to point out that the most enquiries about it had come from other news outlets, not concerned parents, and there wasn’t a single reported incident in the UK.

It came as something of a shock to find out that the BBC now has a Reality Check Editor and team, whose job is to verify stories and highlight fake news. In the good old days, stories and articles would be verified before they got to the public domain, or would be subject to intense scrutiny once they had made the light of day (Hitler Diaries anyone?). Rumours took ages to be circulated, and the ones that did make it nearly always had a shred of truth about them.

With the spread and speed of the internet, a rumour can be started in China at their 6pm and be gospel in the US by their 6pm. It is noticeable how quickly Momo ceased being a story once rational voices had been able to make themselves heard, but this is a clear indication of how the internet has changed the world for the worst.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and put my snowboard back in the loft………..

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