This week I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a politician. It was nothing to do with the Queensland election where candidates and parties prefer criticising opponents to promoting policy. Instead it was Michael Gove, the British environment secretary who said, “There is an unhappy tendency now for people to believe that the raw and authentic voice of what’s shared on social media is more reliable than what is said on Hansard or the BBC.”
Whilst not accepting that the BBC is always reliable, I decided to test the theory by examining the truth of claims that I discovered on social media this week.
Claim: Sir William Gull was Jack the Ripper.
Fact: This was effectively challenged years ago.
Claim: A sitting President of the United States cannot be indicted for a crime.
Fact: The Constitution does not explicitly prohibit an indictment.
Claim: The Javan rhinoceros is extinct.
Fact: A small population remains in Indonesia.
Claim: Scientists prove that coffee is good for your health.
Fact: A study found that three to four cups of coffee a day may have health benefits.
Claim: Wolves top list of football arrests.
Fact: Birmingham had the most arrests.
Each of these claims originated in other media outlets. They are all based on a factual report and there is no evidence of deliberate misrepresentation. In each case some people posted comments that indicated they believed the claim.
The best way to combat this is to respond by sharing the facts. This is particularly important at election time when people may be making decisions on how to vote based on what they have read on social media.