FactCheck: The 2016 False Claim of the Year - as chosen by you

11 months and 89 fact checks later, readers have voted for the most consequential falsehood of 2016.


IN THE FIRST year of‘s FactCheck, we wrote 89 fact checks, examining more than 160 separate factual claims, and delivering verdicts on all of them.

But which false claim was the most important of 2016?

With a debt to US fact-checking website Politifact’s somewhat more blunt “Lie of the Year” tradition, we decided to put this question to a vote by you, the reader.

Some claims are dubious, some are wildly false, but a handful are not only false or misleading, but also significant, and consequential.

This is what we were looking for in deciding what the 2016 False Claim of the Year should be.

We selected six false claims that we dealt with over the course of the year, and staff narrowed them down to three finalists.

You, the readers, voted in a poll on, on our Facebook page, and on Twitter.

The final votes have been tallied, and here are the results.

3rd place – “Only 10 TDs” at a Dáil discussion about mental health
17.4% of votes

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 18.11.47

During Dáil statements on mental health services, which lasted three hours and 19 minutes, a total of 67 TDs took part in some way – speaking, listening, or chairing.

But a couple of screenshots of the Dáil chamber gave the impression that only 10 or so deputies had bothered to show up.

Amid outrage over the diversion of mental health funding elsewhere in the health service, the images went viral, and the number “10″ stuck, forming the basis of opinion pieces and tweets for the remainder of the evening.

But that number was way off, as FactCheck discovered after trawling through the video and official records.

Whether or not the attendance was good enough is, of course, up to you. But – as Today FM political correspondent Gavan Reilly explained – it was better than it normally is.

On the whole, the “10 TDs” episode was a good illustration of the power of images, wrenched out of context, captioned inaccurately, and shared online, and of how even the best causes, motivated by the purest of intentions, must still remain loyal to the facts.

2nd place – The campaign against the HPV vaccine
32.8% of votes

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 18.14.07

The overwhelming consensus from the peer-reviewed scientific research and clinical trials is that the HPV vaccine is extremely effective in preventing cervical cancer in girls, and is also extremely safe.

However, the number of Irish parents giving consent for their daughters to receive the vaccination at school has been falling in the last year or so.

And this decline has been attributed in part to an energetic online campaign against the HPV vaccination by a group calling itself Regret.

After some concerned emails from readers, FactCheck put the evidence of Regret to the test.

Their claims about the vaccination are not based in fact, and are contradicted by a mountain of robust scientific research.

We know false claims frequently go viral online. But it’s not often they have such troubling real-life consequences.

The 2016 False Claim of the Year – Fianna Fáil’s “consistency” on water charges
49.8% of votes

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 18.15.35

Fact-checkers have a term for this – a “zombie claim”. Despite being debunked by FactCheck, and despite indisputable, objective facts, Fianna Fáil and its spokespersons persist in claiming that their policy on water charges and Irish Water has been consistent.

It hasn’t. Our fact check outlines a step-by-step guide to the many twists and turns in Fianna Fáil’s public positions on water, but here’s a telling example.

The party’s election manifesto was published on 11 February, and stated “We will…abolish Irish Water and water charges”.

At the launch of that manifesto, the same day it was published, Micheál Martin said:

“We will…abolish Irish Water and scrap water charges for the next five years” [Emphasis is added]..

Although the subject of our fact check in September – a claim made by Micheál Martin on Morning Ireland – was given a verdict of Half TRUE, this was due to the precise phrasing of his comments.

Before and since then, several Fianna Fáil has repeatedly claimed that the party’s overall policy on water has been consistent.

These ever-shifting positions were more than trivial, too. The perception that Fianna Fáil were in favour of getting rid of water charges and Irish Water, no doubt helped in their electoral success.

And one of the party’s several flip-flops played a part in the formation of the new government itself. In May, Fianna Fáil signed a “Confidence and Supply Arrangement” with Fine Gael.

In it, they agreed to keep Irish Water in place, and suspend water charges, despite previously vowing to abolish both.

Fianna Fáil’s inconsistency on water was highly consequential this year, and the zombie claim that their policy hadn’t shifted is therefore one of the major falsehoods of 2016.

In the end, FactCheck readers decided it deserved the title of the 2016 False Claim of the Year.

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