Time

magazine got it wrong. The Person of the Year is Pinocchio, and 2016 will be remembered for its lies.

Then again, maybe Time got it right, given our four-Pinocchio President-elect's tenuous relationship with the truth.

America's new pastime is trying to figure out what's real. Just this week, we heard from a whole cast of liars.

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That the Long Island woman who said three men on a subway yanked at her hijab and called her a terrorist? Police said she made it all up.

Remember pizza rat? He was a big lie too. An artist who calls herself Zardulu claimed that the ambitious rodent whose noble struggle with a slice of cheese pizza on the steps of a New York subway station was a trained rat performing an elaborate hoax that Zardulu said she orchestrated.

And here's the most devastating lie: the touching and likely bogus story of a child dying in Santa's arms. Really Santa? You're lying too?

This epidemic of lies is our new, cultural plague.

How many of us fell for the thing where we're supposed to cut and paste a privacy clause on Facebook? We killed off Betty White over and over again. I got totally played by the new electric VW surf bus that never happened.

Hucksters, scam artists and liars are nothing new. But it used to be that they were in a certain part of town, behind a store, in an alley. In person, it was easier to sniff out the fibber.

Here's the most devastating lie: the touching and likely bogus story of a child dying in Santa's arms. Photo / AP
Here's the most devastating lie: the touching and likely bogus story of a child dying in Santa's arms. Photo / AP

In this online, altered reality universe we inhabit? Not so easy. A lie can spread fast and far before it is uncovered.

Inside a New York courthouse this year, the fabrication of a gang rape story at the University of Virginia finally became a matter of official record.

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The Washington Post helped unravel the story concocted by a student known as Jackie to get a guy's attention. Her fabrication was retold on the pages of Rolling Stone and did far more than sully a publication and a writer.

That lie will have a devastating impact on thousands and thousands of rape victims for decades to come, even though the true number of false rape allegations is somewhere between 2 and 10 per cent of cases reported to law enforcement.

Don't think it will stick around that long? Whenever I write about racial attacks or rape, people invoke the name of Tawana Brawley.

Nearly 30 years ago, Brawley reported that she was raped by four white men, smeared in faeces and had racial slurs written on her body. Her decision to make up that story still haunts any discussion of sexual assault and racial violence.

The attack described by Yasmin Seweid earlier this month will have that same, outsize presence in the national conversation about hate crimes.

Seweid, an 18-year-old Muslim woman from Long Island, told police she was attacked by three drunk men on a subway who pawed at her hijab and yelled "Donald Trump" to her. The cops said she lied about the whole thing.

I don't doubt that these kinds of hate crimes have spiked this year, especially after the election. The Southern Poverty Law Centre has reported a big increase in hate crime reports. Don't believe me? Read the comments of just about any news story that mentions Muslims - you'll see the ugly rhetoric.

But by creating an incident that never happened, that young woman discredited thousands of victims and emboldened hundreds of thousands of haters.

Facts are an endangered species. And not in a Nietzsche sort of way. Our culture of liars has a fluid relationship with the truth.

"There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts," Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes said on the Diane Rehm show a couple of weeks ago.

President-elect Trump, who earned numerous Pinocchios from fact-checkers who found lies upon lies during his campaign, continues to tweet lies about election fraud, about manufacturing jobs and about his businesses.

And this disregard for the facts continues to have consequences. Last week it was a gunman who showed up at a Washington pizzeria to "self-investigate" an absurd story that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the restaurant. He fired two or three shots before surrendering to police without harming anyone.

This week was the four-year anniversary of the awful massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

It's difficult for anyone, especially parents, to imagine the tiny hands of 20 6-year-olds trying to shield themselves from that fatal storm of gunfire.

But some parents of the victims were victimised again, enduring inhumane harassment by people who believe the outrageous conspiracy theory that the tragedy never happened.

"A quote from Abraham Lincoln that I found online last week, 'It is often hard to verify the accuracy of facts quoted on the internet'," Lenny Pozner, father of murdered 6-year-old Noah Pozner, tweeted.

A woman in Florida was charged this month with making death threats against Pozner, all because she believed a baseless conspiracy theory.

What's real?

The Pozner family's pain is real.

Climate change is real.

Rape culture is real.

Hate crimes are real.

And I'm sorry, but no matter what Zardulu says, I believe Pizza Rat is real, too.