Fake news sets off Twitter confrontation between Pakistan and Israel

JERUSALEM -- A fake news story has touched off a tense Twitter confrontation between nuclear power Pakistan and Israel, widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal of its own, in an episode that underlines the potentially harmful impact of such stories in sensitive global affairs. 

In an apparent response to a fake story claiming Israel’s former defense minister threatened a nuclear attack against Pakistan if it sends troops to Syria, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif ominously reminded Israel that “Pakistan is a nuclear state too.” 

“Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh [another name for ISIS]. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH,” the tweet read. 

Israel’s Defense Ministry tweeted back Saturday, saying the original story on the site AWD News was “totally fictitious.” 

AWD has been identified by fact-checking organizations as a fake news site. 

Israel maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying the existence of a nuclear arsenal which it is widely believed to have. Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998. The countries have no diplomatic ties.

There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan to Israel’s response.

Fake news and its impact has been a hot topic recently as news organizations, consumers and political leaders alike struggle to deal with the confusing new media landscape.

The rise of fake news sites became an issue during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Two-thirds of Americans said the phenomenon created confusion about facts and current events, according to a recent study done by Pew Research Center. 

Facebook announced earlier this month that it is taking new steps to curb the spread of fake news on the social network. The plan includes new tools to make it easier for Facebook users to flag fake stories, as well as a collaboration with the Poynter Institute, a highly respected journalism organization, to independently investigate claims and label fake news.