The Lancashire Evening Post unpublished a comment claiming two firefighters had died, the newspaper noted in a Dec. 26 story about the fake report. The phony report was also spread on social media sites.
The Evening Post wrote in a Dec. 26 story that “the false story circulated on social networking sites, as well as on the Evening Post’s website.” Lancashire Fire Rescue’s Richard Edney told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the newspaper didn’t publish a story, but instead a commenter posted the fake news on a story about the fire.
In an e-mail from Edney, he explained to iMediaEthics that “The Lancashire Evening Post did not publish the rumour” but that a commenter going by the name “courtneykutz” had published the rumor on this Dec. 22 story. According to Edney, the newspaper deleted the comment “as soon as they saw it and knew it was incorrect.”
The BBC reported Dec. 22 that the fire in question — at Leyland business park — “destroyed five buildings” and that “more than 100 firefighters tackled the fire.” In a Dec. 21 post on the Lancashire Fire Department’s website, the fire department explained that it’s unsure “how the fire started” and “Contrary to some reports on websites and social networking sites, no firefighters have died at this incident.”
The chief fire officer for Lancashire also slammed the phony reports, which strained the department’s resources, according to the Evening Post. The officer, Holland, whose first name isn’t identified in the Evening Post story, called the fake story “absolutely appalling,” “mindless stupidity,” and “incomprehensible.” According to the fire department’s website, Peter Holland is the chief fire officer.
Lancashire Fire Rescue’s Edney also included the Lancashire Fire Officer’s Peter Holland’s full statement about the rumor in an e-mail to iMediaEthics:
“It’s just absolutely appalling and I felt sick when I was told about it. It’s just mindless stupidity which is incomprehensible to any normal-thinking person, particularly for firefighters who are brave and courageous people. It’s a risky job and they have got wives and husbands picking up messages like that.
“It created confusion because there were doubts as to whether something had happened. Somebody might have seen something that hadn’t been relayed back to our control room at that stage. Somebody started it as a malicious rumour at some stage and, if somebody has repeated it, they’re as bad as the person that has started it. News travels very, very quickly, particularly now. I just can not, for the life of me, comprehend why anyone would want to do that.
“Social media, of course, can be incredibly useful but the last thing we want to be is diverted away. We have always had a problem with people making malicious hoax calls to the fire service and we have successfully dealt with that to a much lower level now. With the advancement of new technology, different problems appear. This is the first time we have had anything like this.”
UPDATE: 1/1/2012: 9:44 AM EST: Fixed datestamp. This story was published Dec. 31, not Jan. 11.