Editorial....16th January, 2020
The Chronicle new year resolution was to make better use of social media — it brings in no revenue and is just more work but one feels one ought to — but the first glimpse in 2020 of what’s supposed to be the future was a stupid, racist posting so it knocked us back a bit.
The posting concerned a fictitious ban on dogs, allegedly demanded by a Muslim group. It showed a poster demanding that dogs avoid a certain part of whatever city it was in.
A rise in blood pressure and a fraction of second’s research later showed that it was a hoax, assumed to be perpetrated by extreme right wingers, who printed off a poster, tacked it up in a bus stop, took a photo and then posted it on social media claiming to have discovered a Muslim plot.
By “extreme right wingers” it probably means “socially inept young man who lives with his mum” but once posted, such lies live forever and are shared by people who don’t realise that Google offers the chance to disprove all this nonsense. They don’t want to disprove it of course, because they are bigots who want to believe it.
Googling Muslims and dogs reveals that the Koran indeed says dogs are unclean — though one has to wonder what our own government would say if dogs were discovered today and imported along with warning photos of dog dirt on footpaths near schools and smearing pushchairs and wheelchairs.
However, despite the Koran frowning upon dogs, many Muslims do keep pooches as pets. Early last year Tehran’s police chief announced that the judiciary had banned walking dogs in public — dogs are “everywhere” in Tehran, according to a New York Times article on the walking ban. The ban wasn’t particularly on religious grounds, more on the fact that dog ownership is seen is Western and dogs “create fear and anxiety” when they are seen in public, the police chief said. There was no talk of banning dogs themselves.
The Syrian Observer reported last year that the breeding and trading of dogs was a growing business, with some dogs being sold for as much as 3m Syrian pounds while a Malaysian Kennel Association can be found … basically, it’s just not true that Muslims don’t keep dogs, and many love their pets. Admittedly, in Albania they don’t seem to like dogs much — although dog fighting is legal so there must be dogs.
Despite all this, people are still doubtless sharing — and believing — a hoax image suggesting that Muslims wants to ban dogs. There are clearly some Muslims who would ban dogs, but if you picked a muck-riddled footpath near your house and knocked on doors, you’d probably find a white British person who’s fed up with scraping dog shit off their shoes and would happily concur.
As Ch Insp Mark Thorley, commander of Staffordshire Moorlands neighbourhood policing team, says in a letter this week “social media can be a breeding ground for mistruths, where inaccuracies and assumption around incidents with little information can fast become urban myth”; he’s talking about rumours about crime (which he said “serve to create a climate of fear that is really not warranted in the Moorlands”) but it could be about anything.
Almost as annoying as the racist tropes are the “clickbait” headlines and links, not only for news. A typical one for a “cure” for a minor medical issue we clicked on this week — the kind where it says “doctors don’t want you to know about this” — carried the following disclaimer: “This website is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice and treatment from your personal physician. Visitors are advised to consult their own doctors … the author shall not be held liable or responsible for any misunderstanding or misuse of information contained …. or for any loss, damage, or injury caused, or alleged to be caused … the information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease … this is an advertorial and not an actual news article, blog, or consumer protection update.”
So basically: the “cure” they “don’t want you to know about” is fake, they know it’s fake, it doesn’t work and if you’re daft enough to use it, they won’t be held responsible.
Responsible media organisations would not allow such a claim. Only on social media ….
Obviously, it’s not all bad. In his letter Ch Insp Thorley makes the point that when he joined the force, officers didn’t use computers, no one had a mobile phone and investigation techniques were “very different”. Thanks to the same technology, police now have CCTV, ANPR, mobile phones that hold more data than the computer that put the man on the moon and Skype.
Similarly, the Chronicle now has access to more news than it ever did, with information now all on-line or available to be emailed to us.
Still: it’s a shame legislation lags behind the technology.
Social media posts — particularly as regards advertising and fake news — should be covered by the same rules that the more established news sources.