ISLAMABAD: In the latest example of the misuse of increasingly popular social media, none other than Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif fell prey to an internet hoax.
A fake news report that went viral on the internet quoted Israel’s defence minister as threatening to “destroy Pakistan with a nuclear attack”.
This infuriated Khawaja Asif, who is a regular internet user and frequently tweets from his personal account. Probably a bit too offended that the presumed warning came from Israel, a country Pakistan refuses to recognise, the minister played it too hastily to even stop and verify the authenticity of the news item.
Asif took to Twitter in a scathing post directed at Israel in a bid to pay the hostile state in the same coin. “Israeli defence minister threatens nuclear retaliation presuming Pak role in Syria against Da’ish… Israel forgets Pakistan is a nuclear state too.”
The fake story, titled “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack,” published on a less known website awdnews.com, even got the Israeli defence minister’s name wrong; attributing the statement to a former minister, Moshe Yaalon, while Avigdor Lieberman is Israel’s current defence minister.
The typo-laden headline published on December 20 was not the first time a fake news article was posted on the website. Earlier, the website had published an article with the headline, “Clinton is staging a military coup against Trump.”
The Israeli defence ministry responded on Twitter to clarify that the report was false. “The statement attributed to former defence minister Yaalon [about] Pakistan was never said,” the ministry wrote in the post directed at Asif. In a second post it said, “Reports referred to by the Pakistani defence minister are entirely false.”
Asif has not yet responded to the Israelis but his post has been retweeted more than 400 times, many mocking him for his mistake. International media widely carried the story, mocking Asif for reacting to a sensitive matter without even an initial background check.
This is not the first time a fabricated news item has caused a storm. Just days ago, internet was flooded with fake news that a top Pakistani military official who was poised to get an all-important assignment belonged to a minority faith, which proved completely baseless. Even a renowned cleric, who also fell prey to the hoax, released a video, urging the authorities not to consider the said army man’s name for the coveted position because of presumed religious background. It later transpired that the said bigwig was a practicing Muslim.
In the US, the fake news phenomenon has sent major internet companies scrambling to respond amid claims that bogus reports that proliferated ahead of the US presidential election may have skewed the result.
Last month, an internet rumour had the makings of a bizarrely sordid scandal involving a top political aide to Hillary Clinton, allegations of pedophilia and a restaurant in an upscale part of Washington.
Facebook has said it will introduce tools to prevent fake news stories from spreading on its platform.
While Pakistan’s Parliament has carried out legislation to declare cybercrime a punishable offence with the imposition of stern penalties, the misuse goes unabated. Reports often surface about less cyber-savvy internet users being duped into losing their hard earned money by online scammers and youths falling prey to organised gangs that trap the naive youngsters by posing as ‘beautiful females’ to mint money from men and boys. In addition, internet blackmail with the landing of personal photos, videos and related information of Facebook users into the hands of unscrupulous elements, has also seen a rise.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2016.