Here are a couple of headlines which were widely shared by social media and appeared in some newspapers: “Nine Italian nuns pregnant after offering shelter to north African immigrants” and “Scientists in Saudi Arabia say women should be categorised as mammals, not humans.”
You have probably already guessed that these stories are false, two of a wave of fabrications masquerading as facts in cyberspace.
Today a few clicks permit anyone to become his own newspaper editor. If a piece of responsible journalism offends him, he can tell the world via his mobile phone that it is “fake news” and substitute lies, or, as they are known these days, alternative facts, in its place.
In the United States, President Trump has declared war on the media, denouncing as “fake news” anything derogatory said or written about him. Newspapers there, and increasingly in Europe, are responding by doubling and redoubling their fact-checking facilities.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in London reported that: “During the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, we saw often gross distortions of the truth by the Trump campaign.” Also, in the United Kingdom, “the lead-up to the EU referendum saw talk of a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world.”
APPROACHES TO VERIFICATION
Reuters reported that more than 100 fact-checking agencies are now at work around the world, some 50 of them having been launched in the past two years alone.
The Observer newspaper said: “Fact-checking has always been an essential practice in any established news organisation but the plethora of information on the internet — some of it wilfully misleading — requires new approaches to verification, some of them automated.”
A British charity, Full Fact, is working on a mobile app for journalists to instantly check statistics released at press conferences or elsewhere. The Washington Post now fact-checks all of President Trump’s tweets and notes inaccuracies, and in France, Le Monde has established an entire fact-checking division.
Fake news, such as the two examples above, is clearly designed to attack or defend political or social positions but, in doing so, it arouses anger and anxiety, creating a clear risk of violence at a time when temperatures are running dangerously high.
It was a cold December afternoon when Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania went detecting for treasure in a field in Staffordshire. They were about to give up when Mark shouted that he might have found something. Indeed he had – three gold collars and a bracelet from the Iron Age. One similar piece from the Bronze Age has been valued at £150,000.
The jewellery goes to the nation and a court will decide the men’s reward.
Did you know that new-born babies can seriously influence a nation’s economic performance? True news!
What happens, according to scientists who studied a sample of 14,000 British families, is that new-born babies wake and cry, the parents lose sleep and when they go to work they do an inferior job.
Studies concluded that a one-hour increase in the amount of sleep a baby has increases the time a mother sleeps by 12 minutes. Every time a baby wakes up, a mother loses 30 minutes of sleep.
These results were correlated against employment experiences. A one-hour increase in the amount of sleep a mother has improves her employment prospects by 4 per cent. It also correlates to an 11 per cent rise in income.
The effect of disruptive children on fathers’ sleep was found to be only half of that on maternal sleep.
This guy applies for entry to heaven and Saint Peter asks, “Have you ever done anything of special merit.” “Well,” the man says, “I once came across a bunch of thugs abusing a young lady. I immediately intervened. I went up to the biggest thug and I knocked off his hat, stamped on his foot and I demanded, ‘Now what do you propose to do about that?’”
“Very impressive,” said Saint Peter. “When did this happen?”
Said the man, “Just a few minutes ago.”
Old George was going to bed when he looked out of his bedroom window and saw people stealing from his garden shed. He telephoned the police, who asked, “Is anybody in your house?” When he said no, the police dispatcher said, “All our patrols are busy, just lock your doors and an officer will be along when one is available.”
George hung up and counted to 30. Then he called the police again and said, “About those people stealing from my shed, you don’t have to worry, I just shot and killed them.”
Five minutes later, six police cars, a helicopter, two fire trucks and an ambulance roared up to George’s house. The burglars surrendered. One of the policemen said to George, “I thought you said you shot them.”
George said, “I thought you said nobody was available.”