Ian Monk: Lazy journos need to shun web lies

The aftermath of England's World Cup exit spawned more conspiracy theories in a week than Princess Diana's death did in a decade.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

They spread like wildfire across the internet, gaining credence simply by virtue of the number of people who read them.

In fact, it was, virtually without exception, false. Most rumours were not even intelligible speculation, rather the rabid products of malign and presumably under-occupied minds chalking up internet graffiti while sheltering behind the anonymity of inane nomes-de-net. Why doesn't madenglishbulldog10 put his real name to his lurid claims? Why does he and thousands of others enjoy the right to peddle malicious falsehoods against named individuals and organisations? The answer lies in the democracy that characterises the internet, offering universal rights to information, facts and comment.

The web lacks any mechanism to separate fact from comment. Fiction and fantasy masquerade as fact without any of the checks and balances of editorial or legal restraints. Hence my growing belief that new media, unless managed, offer a greater level of threat than opportunity to brands and individuals. Anonymous lies are too often around the world before effective crisis management has got its boots on.

One of the most illuminating aspects of the post-World Cup rumourfest was the symbiotic relationship between print and new media. Phones and emails of PROs connected with any part of the England team were burning with questions from normally intelligent journalists about the veracity of internet rumours.

None made any pretence to sources beyond the internet junk. The sensible PR line was to suggest the rumours were beneath both comment and contempt.

Many newspapers and magazines were reduced to writing stories about what they variously described as 'sick' or 'false' rumours aimed at destabilising England. At a stroke of lazy journalism's keyboard, the fact that baseless and unsourced lies are untrue becomes a story. The football may have been disappointing, but it was this journalism that scored the own goal.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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