There is an old saying that insists that - “A lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on.” Nowadays, with social media everywhere and more often than not, opinion, replacing hard facts as the ‘gold standard’ of journalism, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction in the modern world. In the good old days, when bleary eyed hacks were the sole purveyors of what was deemed to be news, apart from the occasional ‘Letter to the Editor’ rant - whatever the average readers views might be - they were of no particular interest to them. Mostly, letters from the dreaded ‘green ink brigade’ ended up screwed into a ball and flung into the waste paper basket and that was the end of that.
Today, we have those all pervasive social-media warriors commenting on anything and everything, and so my so-called ‘green ink brigade’ are everywhere and nobody can throw their loopy and ill judged thoughts into a bin anymore, because there isn’t one. More’s the pity! Or is that just arrogance?
I have to say that I’m always surprised at the popularity of certain conspiracy theories that regularly do the rounds online. As you can imagine the conspiracy theorists are working overtime during this pandemic. I have lost count of the truly weird and wonderful supposed reasons why Covid-19 is amongst us, some faintly in touch with reality, others completely off the scale in terms of believability. Just yesterday, I read via a social media posting that the recent cock-ups regarding German holidaymakers being refused entry to the island - was in fact part of a conspiracy to ruin Spanish tourism engineered in part by the British government.
A government remember, who currently couldn’t find its own arse in the dark using both hands, let alone plot to destroy another nations tourism industry. Where do we get these people from? It has to be said that some conspiracy theories are familiar and rather comforting in some ways. You know the one’s - Princes Diane was murdered - Men have never landed on the moon, it was faked - The attack on the New York Twin Towers on 9/11 was set up by Mossad, or was it the CIA? - Paul McCartney died in 1965 - the chap we see on the telly is an actor and that famous Abbey Road photograph where Macca is barefoot is apparently positive proof of this undoubted fact. Hey, and these are the sensible ones.
I have unconsciously repeated some duff information myself, particularly if the information fits in nicely with my own prejudices. I once repeated in one of my columns a ‘factoid’ that I’d lifted from a dodgy online source - silly man. “Do you know” I pompously intoned, “34% of UK twenty somethings are still living at home?” Oops, not true! That figure, is in reality just 14% - but that would have wasted an opportunity to have-a-go at spoilt millennials, now wouldn’t it? Most of us will always bear witness to the doubtful fact that the music of our teens was the best ever, and each person entering middle age regards the 1970’s - 80’s or 90’s as a golden age never to be bettered - ever! Interestingly, and in a direct contradiction to the perceived norm of being desperate for good news, It appears that we in fact crave bad news because it is more interesting.
The traditional journalistic maxim is of course - “If it bleeds it leads.” Indeed, it is said that bad news suggests our own lives are safer, richer, nicer than other people’s and for the record, as if we didn’t know, people are becoming more and more sceptical of mainstream politicians and journalism generally. Indeed, I have noticed amongst my friends and family recently a world-weary cynicism creeping into their perception of news coverage across all (mainly British) media. As many people have commented to me lately - they don’t bother to watch the television news anymore as they feel that they are either being frightened half-to-death or made to feel constantly angry about something or another - in short, they feel manipulated.
In using the term ‘Fake News’ made popular by the sometimes less-than-frank President Trump, is that the same as only believing what you want to believe? Does any person reading this, actually believe - every, ever-so-slightly slanted piece that appears in the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph? Moreover, if you regularly read The Guardian or Observer newspapers, I suspect that you happily read them in the thorough-going knowledge that it will re-affirm your own liberal sensibilities and if you don’t - I would suggest you read the The Morning Star for a clear-eyed appraisal on the joys of communism!
Come on, what is the matter with us? We generally believe what we want to believe, what suits our mindset at any given time and then tend to pass on what we want to believe to others. It is often said that too much truth is not good for you - and anyway, we the public are rather hypocritical in all this - as it is said that no political party ever got elected by telling, we the voters, the truth, the whole truth - and nothing but the truth.
Take a friend of mine, who has been a British policeman for more than 25 years. He assures me that after any incident, violent or non violent - witnessed by two people or twenty in a crowd - the statements these witnesses make, after the event, usually contradict each other in almost every aspect to what actually happened, or more crucially didn’t happen in their own memories and perceptions. The truth it seems - is, and always has been elusive.