The opinion column with Mike Stathers

We must speak out against those who peddle fake news.
We must speak out against those who peddle fake news.

As we look forward to a new year, there is one legacy from 2017 that needs to be kicked well and truly into touch – the ridiculous phenomenon known as fake news.

As a former journalist whose career was dedicated to genuine news, I must speak out against those who peddle this nonsense.

Quite simply news is news, good or bad, and anything other than that hasn’t happened.

The term has become globally recognised since most of the fake news comes from the mouth or rather the social media team of US President Donald Trump.

Thankfully, and setting politics to one side, most of us don’t believe everything Mr President says.

Similarly, we must not allow issues that are local to us in East Yorkshire to fall foul of this potentially divisive and disruptive activity.

In the past year there have been ample examples of reputations of organisations and individuals threatened by fake news, fake gossip and fake accusations posted on social media.

It’s too easy to post ‘Has something bad happened at school today?’, Has Joe’s Corner Shop closed down? ‘Is it right we’re getting another 300 new homes?’.

Our own East Riding of Yorkshire Council has been repeatedly accused without any foundation of being a corrupt authority and yet in truth it is one of the very best performing councils in the UK.

When I wrote for the Yorkshire Post on such issues as industrial unrest, social problems or serious crime, my aim was always to publish a balanced report based on facts and comments.

Yes, I hear some say that’s not always the case, and they would be right.

Not all journalists, myself included, could be expected to get every story right all the time.

Indeed, I hope the reporters of today follow the same proud standards, but they are not standards adhered to by others, especially the keyboard cowards who post accusations by implication online, knowing they are unlikely to face prosecution or admonishment.

Those who knowingly publish untruths against an individual or organisation, often claiming some misguided sense of public duty, should face the same legal threats and punishment as any journalist who also knowingly maligns a person in print.

Social media is a wonderful tool, a benefit to us all, but those who use it solely for mischief should be brought to task, not allowed the advantage of anonymity and certainly not allowed to damage good people and good organisations by gossip, innuendo and downright lies.