UK Paper Ghost Wrote Blatantly False Facebook Attack Article By 'Child Protection Expert'

from the ah,-the-uk-press dept

Not too long ago, we wrote about a bizarre situation where a UK newspaper was caught flat out making up a story that was completely wrong. It had interviewed an American professor whose findings were the exact opposite of what the newspaper wanted to print, so it just pretended his research said what they wanted it to say. And, now, reports have come out about how the Daily Mail, one of the more popular UK tabloids, published an article by a supposed "child protection expert," all about the evils of Facebook, detailing how he "posed as a 14-year-old girl" and:
"Even after 15 years in child protection, I was shocked by what I encountered when I spent just five minutes on Facebook posing as a 14-year-old girl. Within 90 seconds, a middle-aged man wanted to perform a sex act in front of me."
Except, of course, the whole story has since fallen apart. What he describes in the article is not even possible on Facebook. If you create an account of a 14-year-old, you're limited in who you can talk to, and it's not easy to just start chatting with random people that you don't know on the site. As people began pointing out that the claims in the article made no sense at all, and were unlikely to be true, the BBC's Rory Cellan Jones contacted the author and found out that the whole thing was basically made up:
I contacted Mr Williams-Thomas to check a few facts, and he confirmed that the story had indeed been "ghosted" by a Mail reporter. He says he got back to the paper with a number of changes before publication, but although they acknowledged receipt of his alterations, they were not acted on.
The Mail later changed the story, and appended a correction saying that the social network in question was not Facebook, though it (and Williams-Thomas) refuse to say which social network this happened on. Furthermore, the fact that Williams-Thomas now admits that the whole article was ghostwritten by the Mail seems pretty ridiculous as well. The press has had a field day over the years attacking social networks, but ghost writing a blatantly false hit piece on Facebook goes beyond the typical "blaming" of Facebook for the actions of its users.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 12:29pm

    The press is just upset that now people can speak up against the press when it does something wrong, since the press clearly won't talk bad about itself.

     

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  2.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 12:42pm

    This is why...

    ...there is only one legitimate reason to read the newspaper: to try to determine what they WANT me to think.

    I don't even bother w/the "facts" anymore. I just take a quick peek at the commentary portion of the article, use it to determine how they're trying to shape my thoughts, make an educated guess as to who else might be behind those attempts, and react accordingly.

    In Chicago, the RedEye ran a report last year with an analysis of our safest neighborhoods, backed up by their "facts". It was blatantly false. Every area of the city that had been touted the past few years as the "next up and coming" neighborhood, and therefore got tons of real estate companies (many of whom advertise in the paper) to buy up lots and buildings, was given a "YOU MUST GO BUY HERE NOW!" review, while ethnic neighborhoods like the one I live in that haven't been property boons but certainly don't have a ton of violent crime (along with, oddly, the entire South Side) were deemed unworthy of consideration.

    It was so blatant that it was laughable. Though why I should expect any better from a paper put out by the Tribune company is probably a great question....

     

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  3.  
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    csp, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 1:22pm

    UK Paper

    You're missing the point here, people. This was a British tabloid, not a legit newspaper. Is anyone actually surprised they make up stories? Come on! Don't label all papers or all journalists as fraudulent because of one tabloid. Tabloids are entertainment, not journalism. Learn the difference.

     

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  4.  
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    paul (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 1:42pm

    It's Libel

    Given the UK's very strict libel laws, should Facebook be suing them?

     

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  5.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

    Re: UK Paper

    "You're missing the point here, people. This was a British tabloid, not a legit newspaper. Is anyone actually surprised they make up stories? Come on! Don't label all papers or all journalists as fraudulent because of one tabloid. Tabloids are entertainment, not journalism. Learn the difference."

    With that sort of dribble, do you write for the Daily Mail? The fact that the paper has no constant standard for journalistic integrity is not one of their advertised features; ergo, those who read the paper are not necessarily aware that they may be better off reading blogs.

    Mike's article starts by referring to a previous article pointing out that The Times had been caught out making up a story. Perhaps you think that when The Times changed from broadsheet to tabloid size that it effected their perceived journalistic integrity.

    How about you learn the difference? While you're at it, learn the significance of journalistic integrity in something calling itself a newspaper.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 2:01pm

    defamation and slander on the paper(canada)

    bet facebooks lawyers would have a field day wiht that paper

    and printing something you know is false is about as clear as it gets to slander and defamation and just saying it wasn't afterwords at last in Canada does not limit you from damages.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

    Re: defamation and slander on the paper(canada)

    Nah. As long as they post an UPDATE: it's perfectly ok to libel people and companies.

     

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  8.  
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    Kaden (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    Re: defamation and slander on the paper(canada)

    I think there's something wrong with your shift key.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 2:58pm

    Re: UK Paper

    This was a British tabloid, not a legit newspaper.

    What's the difference?

     

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  10.  
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    ECA (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 3:49pm

    Corrections

    Corrections in a news paper are the Antithesis of a FRONT page story.

    For as easy as it is to find the front page, finding the corrections is like sifting through sand to find silica.
    Its there, and will probably be the last thing you find/read.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 4:37pm

    Re: Re: UK Paper

    "What's the difference?"

    About 11 inches (sorry).

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 5:50pm

    Re: defamation and slander on the paper(canada)

    Defamation laws are not intended to protect against those who actually do defame others, they’re intended to protect against those who correctly speak up against corrupt organizations, corrupt corporations, entities, and corrupt governments.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 5:51pm

    Re: Re: defamation and slander on the paper(canada)

    errr. corrupt entities *

     

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  14.  
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    JanC (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 11:07pm

    Known before the 2nd world war to many struggling for social justice as The Daily Liar, the newspaper of appeasement, the paper for ukip-minded people (UKIP=BNP@M&S), staple news fare for expat Brits who have left the UK for France, Spain etc because the-country's-going-to-the-dogs etc. Advice: if the Mail says Gabriel is an Angel of the Lord, or it's night time, check it out in case they made it up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    PaulT (profile), Mar 13th, 2010 @ 1:10am

    Re: Corrections

    The Daily Fail is a great example of why modern print journalism is dead. Every edition is full of right wing scare stories and propaganda. Occasionally they're caught out, but if forced to admit mistakes they will print a "correction" somewhere near the back in small type. Since the original lie was in big letters on the front page, people only remember the lie and not the truth.

    Another great example of this is The Sun - the biggest selling paper in the UK, sadly. The sort of paper that shows topless 17 year olds on page 3, while attacking 17 year old "evil paedophiles" who "rape" 15 year olds on page 4 (UK age of consent is 16).

    A few years ago, The Sun ran a story about a murder, but decided to spice it up by placing the blame on the video game Manhunt, a copy of which was found at the scene. Police quickly pointed out that not only was the game not involved in any way (the death was the result of an argument over money, IIRC), but it belonged to the *victim* of the crime, not the killer.

    A correction was printed, I believe, but the damage was done. Even today anti-video game campaigners and even an MP (the ever-foolish Keith Vaz) point at Manhunt as an example of the "evils" of said games, and they managed to get the sequel first banned, then heavily censored. All this because some tabloid journalist couldn't just run a story about a murder without finding an angle to sell more papers.

     

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  16.  
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    ECA (profile), Mar 13th, 2010 @ 1:23am

    Re: Re: Corrections

    YES, the correction is 1 paragraph, when the story held the front page.

    I also Love NEWS as a region.
    I would rather know whats happening CLOSE, then to know whats happening nationally.

    Its old news, of the CHILD that found Poison/razer blade/needles in his candy on Halloween.. Its also true that there have been VERY few cases. And there was only 1 real instance that scared a nation.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Yogi, Mar 13th, 2010 @ 1:35am

    Re: This is why...

    "there is only one legitimate reason to read the newspaper: to try to determine what they WANT me to think."

    Exactly.

    And since I already am quite familiar with the position of various papers and editors on issues of interest and since none of them have shown any propensity to simply uncover and report the facts - than there is no point in reading the papers, is there?

    Basically newspapers are fairy tales for adults who haven't really grown up yet and what's worse - most of these fairy tales consist of plain scaremongering, racism and incitement.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2010 @ 3:57am

    Tell me again...

    ...how we need to "save" print papers because they always fact check and are so much more trustworthy than bloggers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 14th, 2010 @ 2:56pm

    They wouldn't! They're a rewspaper right?

    And places like the Beeb, CBC, Fox and on and on are objective neutral observers, right?

    Let me begin by noting that I've opped various IRC channels for more years than I care to count, including some that are strictly adult.

    Every once in a while someone will come onto the channel claiming to be anything from a 12 year old girl to 15 year old, which seem to be the most frequent troll ages. Prof Williams-Thomas has obviously done this before because not only did he pick a troll age but if he engaged in message swaping or chat in an adult situation then what, exactly, did he expect? Most users of these sorts of channels know that most, if not all, of those openly claiming to be seriously underaged girls are men attempting to provoke the responses the Mail reported.

    For people like me it takes somewhat less than 5 minutes of innocuous chat or two or three innocuous exchanged messages not only to make an accurate guess at the age but a reliable determination of gender. Guess what? Boys and girls, men and women respond to similar situations quite differently. Outing a teenaged boy, bot or adult male isn't difficult. If indeterminate, though, the result is the same. It's an outright ban for every channel I op and depending of those running the IRC server quite likely the server as well. (The latter depends on the country where the server is located and the age of consent there.)

    The difficulty, if it is indeed one, comes when a 16 or 17 year old girl decides to pose as a woman of 18 to about 22. Girls mature faster than boys/men and are able to pull that kind of deception off almost indefinitely whereas boys simply can't. Nor can the vast majority of men posing as women.

    Yes, children need protection from the largely mythical "man in the trenchcoat" hanging around outside a schoolyard. They are far more in need of protection from trusted adults, either by personal contact or profession who are the sources of the vast majority of child porn floating around on the Net. Disgusting and horrid as it is. Sadly they are even more in need of protection from one or both parents or close members of the extended family than even those.

    I'm a survivor of adolescent sexual abuse, probably childhood as well though I couldn't have identified it as such earlier because I hadn't passed puberty yet. (In my day it just didn't happen to boys don't you know!)
    From that angle I'll claim better knowledge than most including Williams-Thomas who strikes me as the classic do-gooder. A species I have little or no use for.

    If a "professional" journalist wrote it, if it appeared in most "professional" mainstream or alternate media check it because in a substantial number of cases it's either made up or spun to fit the "reporter's" views and biases rather than the dangerous myth of journalistic objectivity.

    ttfn

    John

    PS The media believes it's own press while constantly advising others not to believe their own good press.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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