Politicians and Social Media: Giving Weight to ‘Fake News’

Two Israeli members of Knesset are forced to apologize after spreading untimely and misleading information

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Media
Information about the tragic crash of an IDF helicopter, much of it incorrect, appeared and spread online before the official story had a chance to come out.  Photo: Ofer Zidon/Flash90

In the past if a politician wanted to make a public statement he or she would call a press conference. The time needed to arrange that provided ample opportunity to get one’s facts straight beforehand. But today politicians are speaking directly to the public in real time via social media, and often before they have all the information.

This problem was highlighted in Israel this week when two Members of Knesset jumped the gun in speaking out in regards to the tragic military helicopter crash off the coast of Haifa on Monday night.

The spread of misleading and fake news is now rampant. But it is increasingly problematic when it comes from or is passed on by elected leaders, since the public tends to give more weight to what they have to say. After all, they are surely more “in the know” when it comes to such incidents.

But that was not the case when MK Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid), who is chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, took to the podium just an hour after the crash occurred and announced that “there are no casualties. We saved everyone from the helicopter.”

When Defense Minister Benny Gantz asked why Ben Barak was speaking out before all had been made clear, the MK responded, “What? It’s in the news.”

As was later learned, what was in the news when Ben Barak spoke wasn’t accurate. The two helicopter pilots had been killed. The MK later issued an apology for hastily spreading fake news, since his remarks had been quickly picked up by Israeli social media.

Speaking to the Knesset several hours later, MK David Amsalem (Likud) publicly offered his condolences to the families of the fallen. The problem is that he did so while a military gag order was still in effect, thus making “official” the speculative reports that were already making the rounds online.

The IDF imposes such gag orders so that the families of the fallen do not learn of their loved ones’ deaths through the media, but rather from officers trained to break such difficult news and provide comfort.

Amsalem also later apologized.

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