I DECIDED to take my children to Legoland for a trip earlier this year.

Before I left, I was telling someone at work about the visit, who warned me to watch my children closely at all times.

She'd just read a news story from a 'reputable website' which detailed a woman's account of a friend's family who took their eyes off for her six-year-old son for just a few seconds – and he had gone missing.

The Legoland exits were closed down, she said, a search conducted for several hours and the boy was found, his head now shaved, his clothes and shoes changed, drugged and lying in a stroller being wheeled out of the theme park.

I have no idea why someone would want to concoct a sick hoax like this. But a hoax it was, found out with one simple google.

The work colleague was convinced she'd read it on the Telegraph or another quality broadsheet. But a newspaper wouldn't consider running something like that without checking it out, and standing the story up.

Scare stories are littered all over Facebook and other social media, shared wantonly by shocked parents or animal lovers who lap up every word.

Harmless enough, you might think. But this kind of nonsense - 'fake news', as it has now been labelled (my term for it would be more like 'utter b*****ks') - is beginning to impact on quite important things like elections.

Facebook has a button to press to report hate speech or fake news. I'm always pressing it. The other day I spotted some codswallop from someone obsessed with revenge on a certain organisation. He was criticising newspapers for not spreading unsubstantiated (and, it turns out, false) rumours and suggesting we weren't doing our jobs.

The next day he had to post a very swift retraction before he got his backside sued for libel by the target of his rumour-mongering. Enough said.

Facebook and other social media mean everyone has the power to publish. In many ways it is a true triumph of free speech. Anyone can post something and have it shared across the world, if it hits a nerve.

But with this kind of power comes responsibility. Not only legally, but morally too.

It is all too easy to drag an innocent name through the dirt on Facebook, or ruin the reputation of a business through one post. That's true, too, of the mainstream media, but at least most of the time the checks and balances are there, the law adhered to, in the main.

Websites and Facebook pages spring up, reporting random rumour and conjecture as fact, sometimes potentially prejudicing court cases, destroying people's reputations without evidence, or compromising police investigations by getting the facts wrong.

Then some individuals get frustrated with news professionals for not reporting things which legally we just can't publish – it would be irresponsible and illegal.

I keep trying to tell Facebook about fake news. But it is never removed, never marked as such. Wikipedia highlights it if someone raises a concern about the factual content on one of its pages – why can Facebook not do the same?

It may be an all-powerful conglomerate but it just isn't doing enough about spreading misinformation, which is the enemy of a free and democratic society.