STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

On Monday, February 26, University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) newspaper The Medium issued a report entitled “Possible sexual trafficking at UTM.” The story, which has now received substantial attention on social media, refers to an unnamed religious group that allegedly approached students at UTM to “talk about a female Christian God.” The Medium reports that posts circulating online claim this group is a front for sex trafficking.

The claims circulating online are probably false. Rumours about a ‘sex trafficking bible group’ have roamed the internet before, and they’ve been habitually debunked as hoaxes. The Tab debunked this rumour a couple weeks ago, as did nj.com, both clarifying that the group is in fact a Korean church called the World Mission Society of God and that it has no apparent ties to sex trafficking.

Admittedly, the group has some quirks of its own — founded in 1985 as one of two sects from the Witnesses of Jesus Church of God, the group refers to 74-year-old South Korean woman Zahng Gil-jah as “God the Mother.” But, needless to say, this is nothing compared to sexual exploitation, and UTM students really should not have cause for alarm.

What is alarming, though, is the report itself. It’s clear, given the story’s lack of evidence, that The Medium had not conducted much research into the story before choosing to publish it. The article fails to provide any form of validation for such a sensational headline, failing to mention the name of the religious group in question or sharing the online posts claiming that the group is a front for sex trafficking with its readers.

It is standard practice for news outlets not to report on rumours or hearsay that cannot be substantiated. To do otherwise is to send your readership into an unwarranted state of panic over information that often proves to be false.

On social media, The Medium‘s article appears to have had that exact effect. Clocking in at 11 ‘reactions,’ seven comments, and 29 shares to date, the article is by far The Medium‘s most frequented of its recent posts on Facebook. Multiple students have tagged their friends to put them on alert.

Thankfully, The Medium issued a follow-up story on Wednesday, February 28 entitled, “No ties to sex trafficking by religious group has been proven [sic].” Although, while clearly intended to dilute the sensational nature of the first article, the follow-up has not received nearly the same attention as the original report. The Medium has made little effort to make those who responded to the initial report aware of the follow-up beyond posting it to their Facebook page. No updates were made to the original article, and the updated article was not posted in the Facebook comment section of the first article, which would have at least alerted the students that commented. Those who saw the first report may easily have missed the second.

No newspaper is infallible — we know all too well how easy it can be to make journalistic mistakes like these — but measures should be taken to rectify such mistakes when they occur. Simply updating the original article, or commenting underneath the Facebook post, helps to inform the students that have been misinformed.

Instances like these should remind us of the power we as student newspapers wield, and it should encourage us to carefully consider the information we obtain before deeming it newsworthy.

 

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Stay up to date. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required