Pakistan moved to the brink of nuclear war against Israel over the Christmas weekend; all due to a fake news report. Admittedly, the disagreement was over Twitter and history has not shown whether social media comments can lead to a real life declaration of hostilities.
The issue stemmed from a “news” piece claiming that Israel would launch a nuclear attack against Pakistan if the country deployed troops into Syria. In response, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja M. Asif tweeted that “Israel forgets that Pakistan is a nuclear state too”.
Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh.Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH
— Khawaja M. Asif (@KhawajaMAsif) December 23, 2016
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed after the Israeli Ministry of Defence pointed out that the quote was faked. This lead to a retraction of the the Pakistani tweet; and a clarification that Pakistan is a peaceful nation and would only use its nuclear arsenal in self defence (presumably in the event that someone threatened to nuke them first).
@KhawajaMAsif The statement attributed to fmr Def Min Yaalon re Pakistan was never said
— Ministry of Defense (@Israel_MOD) December 24, 2016
While this was a small political misunderstanding, it shows the importance of dealing with fake news. It’s not just regular folk who may fall stories designed to sway opinions or clickbait, but it may also influence how governments interact with each other.
It may also highlight the importance of getting some fact checkers into the government to ensure that nobody starts shooting over an incident that never happened. Especially when the countries in question happen to be sitting on stockpiles of WMDs.