Jonathan Milne: Real news or fake news? It's hard to tell the difference when this year's truth is stranger than fiction
Arguably, it all started here in New Zealand. In 2009, a fake news website reported Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum had died in the Far North. "Police officials indicate that the actor fell more than 60 feet to his death on the Kauri Cliffs while on-set," reported a site branded Global Associated News.
As it's been said, a lie can travel around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots. And on social media, that lie travels fast.
It is made all the more difficult for many people to discern what is real, when this year's truth is stranger than fiction.
At a time when Donald Trump is accused by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of anti-Semitism, and by Hamas' fundamentalist Muslim leadership of being a "Jew lover", it is sometimes hard to know who to believe.
* Ben Uffindell: How I accidentally convinced hundreds of people they had to leave the country and abandon their children
* John Key to Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook's tax not a good look
* Mark Zuckerberg outlines Facebook's ideas to battle fake news
* Goldblum 'touched' by death reports
When Auckland Imam Dr Mohammad Anwar Sahib blames the world's woes on the Christians and Jews; and Christian bishop Brian Tamaki blames the homosexuals; and the homosexuals ... well, by this point it's hard to know who to disbelieve. Though, to the best of my knowledge, gays haven't tried to blame anyone for New Zealand's earthquakes.
The (real) news, that much of the US presidential election coverage promulgated on Facebook was fake, forces us to ask the question: do we know the difference between real news and fake news?
At the heart of many of the more lurid stories that have gained momentum online over the past months have been the tinder-boxes that are sex, race and religion. One almost needs a Venn diagram to understand who is bigoted against whom.
What seems clear is that those who hold strong views at one political extreme or the other will often believe what they want to. Where once newspaper editors and their readers demanded evidence to back up every story, now all it takes for a story to gain credence is a "share" from a Facebook friend.
"Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump for president," read one headline. (It was fake).
"WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS." (Fake).
Or this from Christian News: "BREAKING: Hillary Clinton files for divorce in New York court." (Fake).
"Drag queen Rupaul claims Trump touched him inappropriately." (Fake again).
To discover how good we are at discerning the truth, it's time for our news quiz: real or fake?
1. Prime Minister John Key delivered a blunt personal message this week to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of fake news purveyor Facebook: "There's a bit of a feeling – that would have got Donald Trump elected – that somehow the world wasn't fair." (Real).
2. West Coast Civil Defence warned of a large earthquake in the region: "There is a possibility of large aftershocks in the area designated by Geonet on their probability map." (Fake – Civil Defence said it, but now admits it was "not factually correct").
3. "Mike Hosking's vacuum cleaner has been stolen - and he's not happy about it." (Fake – he's quite clearly delighted at the success of this ridiculous publicity stunt).
There is, at least, one piece of good news, right? Kiwis aren't so gullible as to fall for fake news.
- Sunday Star Times