Fake news story prompts Pakistan to issue nuclear threat

Defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif reminds Israel that Pakistan is a ‘nuclear state too’

The defence minister was reportedly reacting to a report that Israel had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons. File photograph: HO-U.S. Air Force Photo/Defense Department/Reuters

The defence minister was reportedly reacting to a report that Israel had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons. File photograph: HO-U.S. Air Force Photo/Defense Department/Reuters

 

A fake news article led to gunfire at a Washington pizzeria three weeks ago. Now it seems that another fake news story has prompted the defence minister of Pakistan to threaten to go nuclear.

The defence minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, wrote a saber-rattling Twitter post directed at Israel on Friday after a false report - which the minister apparently believed - that Israel had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Both countries have nuclear arsenals.

“Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh,” the minister wrote on his official Twitter account, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too.”

Mr Asif appeared to be reacting to a fake news article published on awdnews.com. That story, with the typo-laden headline “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack,” appeared on December 20th on the website, alongside articles with headlines such as “Clinton is staging a military coup against Trump.”

The fake story about Israel even misidentified the country’s defence minister, attributing quotations to a former minister, Moshe Yaalon. Israel’s current minister of defence is Avigdor Lieberman. The Israeli Defence Ministry responded on Twitter to say the report was fictitious.

“The statement attributed to fmr Def Min Yaalon re Pakistan was never said,” the ministry wrote in Twitter post directed at Asif. The Israeli ministry added in a second post: “Reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false.”

Mr Asif did not respond to the Israelis on Twitter. Many of the people reacting to Asif on Twitter mocked him for his mistake. The proliferation of fake news stories - spread on social networks and produced by a variety of sources including pranksters, foreign governments and enterprising individuals who hope to receive advertising revenue by driving traffic to their websites - has become an increasingly serious problem.

In the US, a North Carolina man was arrested earlier this month after firing a gun at a Washington pizza parlour, because investigators said he was investigating claims in fake news articles that the pizzeria was at the centre of a child sex slave ring linked to Hillary Clinton.

NYT