REGULAR readers of this column may recall I have a certain antipathy towards social media. I am truly ambivalent about the whole scene.

For various reasons, I have taken myself off Facebook and have absolutely no desire to sign up for it again.

I view Twitter a little differently as I see it as a more useful source of information. But nevertheless, I am still concerned that we are in danger of losing our real friends only to replace them with virtual ones.

But my attention was drawn to an altogether darker and more sinister manifestation of the social media sub culture this week – ironically, as it happens, through Twitter.

Using the principle of six degrees of separation and following various retweets, I was sent a picture that, at first glance, I found truly shocking.

It was a photo of a lorry containing waste radioactive water and was said to have been taken as the vehicle was leaving a North West water treatment site.

My first thought was one of horror. How could this be possible, how could nuclear waste be travelling round our streets, unguarded?

The original tweet that reached me had originated from an organisation that had been set up to fight against the construction of a biomass power station (not, I hasten to add, one of the mid Cheshire ones).

The original picture, apparently, came from another environmental pressure group operating in the area.

I will decline to name them to spare their blushes.

Now call me suspicious but something just did not ring true. I know I can be a bit cynical at times but, as it happens, I also know a little bit about the nuclear industry.

What you have to keep in mind is that it’s one of the most highly regulated and controlled industries in the country. There are national security implications and such is the level of scrutiny, it is simply not feasible for unguarded and unregulated loads of nuclear waste to be merrily making their way around the built-up, heavily urbanised streets of the North West.

Yes, I know accidents happen – and have happened – at nuclear power plants around the world, despite the level of legislation and control, and I am not saying for one moment I am in favour of the nuclear industry.

But, according to an official statement from the company alleged to have transgressed, it transpires the picture was a fake, a hoax, a product of Photoshop.

A clever fake, very professional to be sure. I couldn’t see the joins.

This puts me in something of a moral dilemma. Who do you believe?

I come firmly down on the side of the company involved. There is simply too much at stake for them to be messing around with something like this. The Environment Agency would be down on them like a ton of bricks and the fall-out from bad publicity is not what any legitimate company would want.

My guess is the picture was originally faked for a bit of fun and was produced without malice, at least I hope so.

It probably did the rounds among a few friends before escaping into the wild, only to be picked up by people who are only too willing to use something like this to back up their cause.

And this is where social media comes in. There are no checks and balances with social media. Once it’s out in the public domain, it can’t be reined back in. Rumours, gossip and suspicions are passed off as fact with no one to say otherwise. No one criticises, no one scrutinises, no one checks facts. It’s on Facebook, it’s been sent by someone I know, therefore it must be true.

We are back to the law of unexpected consequences. What started out as a fun way of keeping in touch with the minutiae of the lives of friends and family has become, in my humble opinion, corrupted beyond the point of no return, Wild and untrue allegations can be made against anyone and the subsequent denials just seem hollow and pathetic.

What makes me really sad is the willingness of some people to blindly believe the aforementioned picture was true, so desperate are they to cling on to a morsel of information that makes them look like the good guys.

But where are penalties for people disseminating nonsense such as this? It’s not that long ago political parties of all colours were whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the antics of the national press but where is the same sense of outrage about the excesses of Twitter and Facebook where it seems you can more or less say what you want about anyone and anything.

I realise the genie is out of the bottle and I am probably a lone voice crying in the wilderness but I really look forward to the day when the irresponsible individuals peddling this kind of nonsense are forced to take responsibility for their actions.