The problem of “fake news” today may be regarded as an alarming result of the advent of social media. Click-bait articles with dramatic headlines maximise the number of shares an article receives on social media sites such as Facebook. However, these fake stories with a very slippery basis, have in fact been a problem for years . Journalist Senan Molony presents a case in point in the recent press. Mr Molony having studied the Titanic for 30 years may sound initially justified in explaining her fate.
However, looking at just two photographs, he has developed a theory for sensationalist headlines, a theory that oh so poetically entwines the ship’s fate in a tale of Ice and Fire. Supposedly, a fire on board the ship in the coal storage weakened the hull, making the ship more susceptible to sinking.
The basis however of this whole game-changing hypothesis was just two dark marks on the side of the hull, from two photos of the Titanic found in 2012. This is far from any solid indicator of the damage inflicted upon the ship.
The fire certainly lead to the weakening of a neighbouring bulkhead allowing it to burst due to water pressure. Only one eyewitness account supports this strenuous link. Regardless, it only explains the increase in sinking speed, missing out the very substantial factor of a GIANT ICEBERG. A 1996 examination of the wreck utilised sound waves, found six gashes across six watertight holds, end of.
However, what media outlet could resist such a blockbuster story, a story whose evidence may be compromised, to sell papers, or get views and shares?
From the Independent taking direct quotes from experts on the documentary Titanic: The New Evidence, Mr Molony dramatically puts it that “fire and ice and criminal negligence” sank the ship. This was too catchy a theme to resist, resulting in its proliferation around the internet.
Sputnik News, Moscow, couldn’t resist putting this as their article’s centrepiece, posting on their Facebook page it with the caption “Fire, ice and criminal negligence”, causing the disaster. The source also overemphasised the fire’s impact, focusing on Molony’s rejection of the theory that a 300 ft iceberg created gash lead to the sinking.
This rejected the evidence of the six gashes in the side of the ship, caused by mile long floating ice cube! Irish News would explicitly say the fire was “the primary cause of the ship’s demise”.
CNN centralised as evidence the dark smudges on the two photos of the Titanic Molony utilised. Can just these two photos be solid evidence to suggest fire sunk the Titanic?
However, sensationalism in the press – not just questionable click-bait news articles on social media – is age-old; as in the century-old reportage on the Titanic disaster itself.
The Daily Mail reporting “no lives lost” in the initial outbreak, due to misinterpreting telegrams. While the Washington Post’s headline, much like the questionable evidence utilised by contemporary newsites, ran from a single radio transmission from the RMS Olympic of 1800 lives lost.
Will Sullivan who writes for The Associated Press noted his own paper’s failure to prioritise sensationalism over accuracy. He wrote: “We know about the mistakes of that time and we know how large sale they were…Let’s not do that again.”
However, with 105 years of research, analysis and compilation of evidence, it still appears sensationalism triumphs over a desire to present objective accuracy.
It does not matter that we now share news at a faster pace than ever before: new media, old problems.