Back in November 2006, when we undertook our first Paper Round analysis, one of the very first stories I read was a front-pager, in a “quality” daily, which purported to alert the nation to the problem of employee fraud but was based entirely on quotes from a man who solved this self-same problem for a living. This story was free (I think) advertising, deceiving the reader by masquerading – as the main front page story, no less – as news.
Today, on the Luas, I came across something similar on the Metro front page. The story, headed, “Sick Staff Caught Out On Facebook”, claimed that “two thirds of Irish workers have had their knuckles rapped after employers discovered their real reasons for skiving by snooping on their pages on the social networking site”. Various other factoids were related in the following paragraphs, all provided to Metro by one Alan Price, of Peninsula Ireland, “a leading employment-law firm”.
This style of story has become familiar to me since I first encountered it; the platonic ideal would be a headline “Hard Water May Cause Cataclysmic Washing Machine Nightmare” over a story whipped up out of quotes from “leading hard water solutions experts, Calgon“. It can be thrown together in about five minutes, out of whatever press release has last arrived into the hack’s email account, and requires no reporting or writing whatsoever. This particular story, with its catchy reference to “The Facebook”, which The Kidz seem to like so much, was a natural for the Metro. Distressingly, it was a natural for the Irish Times and Irish Examiner too.
I am long past being surprised that the broadsheets’ abase themselves before every “consultant” or “expert” with a few statistics that he just pulled out of his hole. Still, today was a new low, because, as more alert readers will have noticed right away, the statistics are absolute nonsense. That nobody in either newspaper had the basic intelligence to notice this, or worse, that they did notice it, and went to print anyway is a depressing notion, if not a surprising one. We are being asked to believe that two thirds of the Irish workforce, which numbers 2,108,500 according to the CSO, not only have Facebook accounts, but allow their employers access to their profiles. Not only that, but these people, all 1,412,695 of them, have all been mitching off from work. Further, every single one of them was caught and disciplined by their employer after a crafty look at their Facebook accounts. To which I reply, with some confidence: “No, you idiots, no they weren’t”, adding, in a weary but affronted tone “what sort of fools do you take us for?”
The story is untrue on its face, but for the sake of completeness, Facebook themselves claim 307,040 Irish users. Though I am no mathematician, that seems to me quite a bit less than the one and a half million odd skivers cited by the “leading employment law firm” in the story. The “leading employment law firm” bit is clearly another unquestioning cut-and-paste from the same press release, because according to the Law Society, there is no such law firm as Peninsula Ireland. A quick google shows that Peninsula specialise in surveys with patently unbelievable findings. Earlier this summer, they announced that “three out of four Irish men in the workplace experience sexual harassment from women, but are too afraid to complain to their employer”. The press was happy to print that for them too. Here’s their website. Bookmark it, and save yourself the price of a newspaper. You’ll still feel dirty inside, but at least you won’t get ink on your hands as well.