It is in the nature of storytelling to inevitably express a point of view, since we simply cannot detach from our own self. There is however a basic difference between an honest narrative (and fiction always falls into this category) and a flat-out lie.
Expressing an opinion is one thing, even if we are doing so subconsciously. Lying with the full knowledge that we are lying is an entirely different matter. Old-school journalism, that had a few very intelligent rules, requires to check and quote sources, because the journalist is not the Pope writing ex cathedra some revealed truth, but rather a messenger that owes the readers a chance to verify what is being claimed.
Unfortunately this good habit is often lost, and the speed of Internet communications becomes the superficiality of the Internet. It is good that everyone gets a chance to express their opinion, less so when opinions expect to mutate into revealed truth. Sometimes this happens in good faith, because of ignorance – the Internet is, after all, a tool we only have been handling for decades when compared to the centuries of experience we have with the press – but there are moments when the phenomenon of fake news becomes a toxic cloud that is much more dangerous than an innocent prank.
Bonsai Kitten is an innocent prank – nobody is getting hurt and the hoax (promoting practice of raising kittens in a jar) is ridiculous to the point that it doesn’t really take much to understand the whole thing is a joke. The same cannot be said about the claims of vaccines causing autism, which is not only an insult to the scientific method (there is no proven correlation) but an irresponsible act, considering the devastating consequences of this conspiracy theory on public health.
Similarly disgusting, and I hope there will be repercussions in court, is for a journalist to write that the two Italian aid workers kidnapped by terrorists in Syria, had “consensual sex” with their kidnappers. Now, beyond the fact that this information has no relevance beyond the desire to throw mud on two young women who were kidnapped by terrorists, the worst lie in these words is in the use of the word “consensual”.
It says much about the rape culture infesting our society that nobody has yet pointed out that in the context of what was happening, there could be no consent to a sexual intercourse. The two young women were not free, and therefore could not be consenting. It could be that the author of the vile article didn’t even think of this, and probably neither did the Vice President of the Italian Senate Maurizio Gasparri, who decided to believe these fake news and express his opinion on it.
There is much talk in these days on freedom of speech: maybe to solve the conflict between censorship and freedom (even freedom to offend) we should just return, for those writing and for those reading, to the good old rules of journalism.
Do research for direct sources of information; verify the credibility of the sources; draw a clear line between fact and opinion, when creating content.