Deputy Social Affairs Minister Domna Michailidou came under fire on social media over remarks she did not make. Digital technology has made fake news more accessible, to more people, and faster.
Recent years have seen a lot of talk about fake news on social media. This is justified. Although fake news has been around since before the birth of the internet (one of the most widespread fabrications being Henry Kissinger’s supposed statement that he wanted to attack Hellenism by destroying Greece’s language and culture), digital technology made fake news more accessible, to more people, and faster. In other words, fake news is not a product of the internet, but it has certainly been strengthened by the World Wide Web.
There are many fools and/or evil people in this world, which explains the mass production of fake news. However, we are still far from seeing a reverse trend, i.e. a war on fake news. A recent example is the controversy surrounding reported plans by the conservative government to grant a child benefit to women under 30.
The news triggered attacks, including sexist remarks, against Deputy Social Affairs Minister Domna Michailidou, who announced the measure in Parliament. Economist Aristos Doxiadis took note of the actual speech before going on social media to correct the false reports. In a Facebook post he wrote: “Is it so hard to check what the deputy minister actually said before judging her? She said, ‘We introduce a 2,000-euro benefit for every child born in Greece.’ She said nothing about the mother’s age or nationality. She went on to add, ‘We are considering the possibility of granting extra incentives for younger families, families where a woman gives birth before she reaches the age of 30.’ The rationale is that if you have a first child early on, you are more likely to have a second. Judge what she really said, not what you imagined that she said.” (Facebook 23/07/2019)
Dimitris Alikakos, editor in chief of the Ellinika Hoaxes fact-checking website, added one more aspect: “The proposal being examined by the Labor Ministry regarding ‘the additional incentives granted to women who bear a child before the age of 30’ was not put forward by Deputy Minister Domna Michailidou but was based on one of many proposals by DiaNEOsis, which has in recent years been examining Greece’s demographic problem […] it is included in a set of proposals included in the survey ‘The low fertility rate in Greece, the demographic crisis and the policies for supporting the family’ (published in January 2019), which was carried out by a team of EKKE (National Center for Social Research) researchers with EKKE research director Dionysis Balourdos as coordinator.” (Facebook 23/07/2019)
Fake news is a global problem, but this is not rooted in the nature of new media; it is principally caused by the good old art of distortion which is so popular among SYRIZA folk. The false information regarding “the benefit to mothers under 30” was also reproduced by mainstream (and once respected) newspapers including the Avgi daily, where it was published under the title: “Have you had kids or are you some kind of spinster?” (Avgi 24/07/2019)