Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona (REVIEW)

How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.

Photo: Penguin Books.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.

Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.

Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.

If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.

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A UK debate on net neutrality could happen post-Brexit – we must be ready | The Friday Article

Pizzas, memes and American talk show hosts have all tried their hand at explaining one of the most complicated issues facing the world of technology today. On Wednesday, organisations staged a ‘day of action’ for Net Neutrality Day, showing the world what it would be like if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had the power to prioritise certain traffic or websites over others.

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It’s time we started talking about net neutrality across the pond.

Watching the debate from across the pond, UK citizens breathed a sigh of relief knowing that net neutrality has been enshrined into EU law. That is, until the moment they realised that we voted to leave the bloc just over a year ago. Now, just like other EU laws, the regulation that allows us to enjoy online content regardless of whom our ISP is hangs in the balance.

Cue another piece of political news which did the rounds yesterday which could put all of this at risk: the government’s not-so-great Repeal Bill. If it passes in the state that it’s in now (somewhat unlikely), then ministers will be granted the power to pass secondary legislation. Whilst it’s nice that the Conservatives want to cut Parliament’s workload (dealing with over 50,000 pieces of legislation sounds like quite the hassle), doing so in a way which avoids the scrutiny of MPs has opposition parties raising their eyebrows – and rightly so.

Even if the Tories decide not to amend the regulation without scrutiny, a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, however flawed it may be, could see the net neutrality law scrapped. Regardless of the fact there was a ‘voluntary system’ prior to this law, given Theresa May’s calls ‘to regulate cyberspace’ and the passing of the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, any opportunity to degrade internet freedoms will most likely be taken by the Tories.

We need to act now. With the latest data from the Office for National Statistics revealing that 99% of 16 to 34 year olds are recent internet users (compared to just 41% of adults aged 75 or over), a British debate on net neutrality could very well be led by the younger generation.

It would certainly be a powerful campaign from our young people, too. The Conservative Party has been left battered and bruised after the youth vote crushed her arrogance (not to mention her majority) after last month’s general election. Tory MPs scrapping net neutrality – threatening young people’s Netflix subscriptions, social media access and main campaigning platform – would be a very, very bad idea.
One must not fall into stereotypes when discussing the internet, but as much as the youth campaign should challenge any decision to allow ISP’s to control the viewing of online content, it must also ensure that older people understand the issues associated with this. Net neutrality is an issue which affects all of us. Even if an individual is offline, they will be indirectly affected by an unfair Internet.

The possibility of a second general election has left everyone in a political limbo, with a degree of uncertainty about what’s coming next. Depending on what side of the political spectrum people identify, it either fills them with hope or dread. Either way, for the sake of our online society, the surge of young people being interested in politics must never fade.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

Theresa May’s Brexit speech: A statement which failed to solve the problem of certainty

The post-Brexit debate has always been about seeing both sides of a very complicated equation. Our exit from the EU must satisfy the leave voters that wanted a return of Parliamentary sovereignty, whilst pleasing those who wanted more controls on immigration. It must be a clear removal from a union, whilst also reassuring remainers that their rights to live, work and travel around Europe won’t be affected – at least not too much. However, one of the biggest problems Theresa May failed to solve in her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was that of certainty.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

There is a balance to be struck ahead of triggering Article 50. Understandably, May must keep some of her cards close to her chest, as it were, when going to the negotiating table – not everything can be disclosed to the public beforehand in case it jeopardises our position. Yet, the vagueness that comes with describing Brexit with cake metaphors, colours or the popular line ‘Brexit means Brexit’ does not provide certainty to those who need it most: the remainers. Uncertainty leads to frustration and anger, which only adds to a debate which is currently dividing our country.

Of course, the first point about the PM’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU was about certainty, but whilst the transitions of EU law into British law after Brexit (until they are repealed by Parliament) was reassuring, that’s not the only thing remainers are worrying about. Sure, all this talk about a ‘Global Britain’ may reassure some business owners if they forget about the fact we’re leaving the single market, but what about dealing with the division in the UK? What about addressing the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and right-wing populism? What are you doing about those, Theresa?

In a sense, it was a statement structured like a non-fiction novel. They mostly tell us things we already know, but present some new information too so we don’t feel patronised. Unfortunately for Mrs May, telling us that we’ll need to control our immigration and that we want to make our own laws doesn’t prevent a feeling of deja vu from lingering in the air. Likewise, mentioning that we’ll be leaving the single market and protecting workers’ rights (the latter should please Labour to an extent) in passing won’t help either.

It was a speech littered with juxtapositions too. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned on his show yesterday that it suggested “we’re a global country that doesn’t want you to come here”. Whether it’s a lack of detail or contradictory remarks, both don’t provide the clarity we need.

Finally, there came a line which will only add to the anxiety remainers have at the moment. “While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached,” said May, “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

During the referendum campaign, those who backed a vote to stay mocked and joked about Brexit having a disappointing outcome. The comments all followed the same tone of it being a magical post-Brexit future which never comes to fruition (be it told in the style of a dodgy divorce, bad plans for a night out or so on). It’s a joke which may just become possible.

After all, Theresa May plans to give Parliament a vote on the final deal. Yet, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs all opposing the Conservative’s plan for Brexit (on varying levels), it’s unlikely that an agreement on the terms of exit will be struck in the Commons.

A disastrous ‘no deal’ remains a possibility. This, combined with May’s unclear comments on leaving the single market and resolving our country’s division, has only created more uncertainty – something forced optimism always fails to mask.

Donald Trump’s #WatersportsGate: A student journalist’s concern about ‘fake news’

A student journalist complaining about fake news is nothing new. Buzzfeed’s recent article about Trump, dubbed ‘#watersportsgate’ on Twitter, included unverified allegations that Russia has embarrassing information about the President-elect of the United States. It is just the latest in a string of stories which should be double-checked ahead of publication (if it is to be published at all). We’ve been here before, but how we got in this fake news cycle and how we get out of it are the two interesting questions to answer.

The stories about ‘#watersportsgate’ and Donald Trump are just the latest in a string of unverified or fake news making the front pages when they shouldn’t have done. Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

Journalism and politics have always been closely connected. Most of the time, the latter drives the former when it comes to news stories. However, the media’s commitment to reporting the political climate can also lead to the emotions attached to the stories bleeding through. Cue Brexit.

It was a referendum filled with emotion – fear and anger in particular. Feelings replaced facts (known as ‘post-truth’, which was the 2016 word of the year) because there were minimal, if any, statistics to show what would happen after either result. With limited facts but a whole lot of emotion to cover, the media started to become tempted by post-truth and sensationalism.
That being said, not all of the blame can be shifted onto journalists and politicians. As consumers of news, we want to process information as fast as possible, taking stories at face value before moving onto the next story. There’s no time to stop and think in the world of fast-paced media consumption, but given that we live in a world dominated by social media, that cannot be helped.

On the topic of fast-paced news consumption, this has also led to a push for viral news as well. Today, with Buzzfeed’s article… Are we really surprised that they were the ones to run with it? They are an organisation which thrives on viral content, so what better a story than one which is filled with sensationalism and controversy? It’s to be expected.

We must examine the relationship between journalists and politicians, and both of their responsibilities to share factual information. Whilst politics is slowly moving towards the facts – as and when Theresa May decides to reveal her plans for Brexit – journalists must use their power of manipulating the masses (see the hypodermic needle theory) to change public opinion once more. IPSO must be harsher on organisations breaching the accuracy clause with fake news, and as the British public face uncertainty over Brexit, the news media must come forward offering facts as a form of hope.

Although this article talks about eradicating fake news in the UK, it’s still relevant when it comes to the case with Trump is in the United States. The solutions can be applied in any Western country, at a time where nationalism and emotions are running high. Whilst, of course, these sentiments must be debated in our democracy, we cannot afford to let the emotions embed themselves in Western journalism. What’s concerning for future journalists is this: if the one place where the public goes for the truth becomes untrustworthy, to whom do they turn?

2017 must be the year of redirection | The Friday Article

December is a month which always prompts reflection. It’s a time when we all look back at the New Year’s Resolutions we made in January and then subsequently forgot about, whilst once again scrutinising the news stories which broke over the past 12 months.

The past year was a one of fear, loss and division, but as the New Year offers us the opportunity to hurl our favourite expletive at 2016, we must not put it in a box and simply move on. We all know that 2017 will likely involve some aftershocks from key political events this year (those being Trump and Brexit, of course), but we must be ready, and use the lessons of 2016 to prepare ourselves.

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Photo: Megan Trace on Flickr (changes have been made). Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

UK politics is like a soap opera full of unnecessary drama that none of us want to see, where the theatrical Prime Minister’s Questions is like an argument on the cobbles of Coronation Street. However, with any soap opera, tuning in at the wrong time leads us scratching our heads and wondering what on earth is going on. Yet, when it comes to British politics, we only have to thank our vote to leave the European Union in June 23 for shaking up and redefining the system. Now, the soap opera that is the UK political scene has gone right back to episode one. This is the time for young people to get interested in public affairs.

One can only hope that 18-25 year olds are still passionate about the subject after Brexit, as the historic vote determines how our future pans out. Although, whilst leave voters will keep a close eye on the government’s plans for our exit, the question of whether those who backed remain continue to be involved in politics is debatable.

A YouGov poll earlier this year revealed that 71% of 18-25 year olds voted to stay and 64% of 65 and overs backed the leave vote. It was a poll (or a variant of it) which made its way onto social media after the vote was announced and numerous people made the remark about the voices of young people being drowned out by the older generation. However, as we move into 2017, young people must not be angry at older people for carrying out a democratic act. To give up voting in resignation or protest would only reduce the voice of young people in general elections or referenda. The frustration and disenfranchisement must stop and be replaced by a call for politicians to listen to us as a generation – especially when it comes to having our say on Brexit. As British politics returns to phase one, now is the perfect time for young people to grasp the current political climate, stand up, and voice our concerns.

Whilst 18-25 years must continue to place pressure on politicians, another sense of redirection must occur when it comes to dealing with the rise of right-wing populism. The referendum in June asked the British people whether they trusted the representative body that is the European Union, and we decided that we were going to leave it. Rather than the aftermath of the decision raising questions about the political establishment in both the UK and Europe, a campaign of misdirection by Vote Leave moved the topic of discussion onto immigration and free movement (after their economic argument somewhat failed and the giant red bus became a parody). This, of course, is an important issue to debate and consider, but this new, nationwide talking point also gave the racists, neo-Nazis and far-right nationalists a sense of validation when it comes to targeting specific races or religions. That has to stop in 2017.

It’s something which has been explained before, but instead of blaming government (the policy-makers), those who possess these extreme right-wing views blame immigrants when it comes to issues such as jobs and housing.

This is why 2017 must be the year of redirection. Frustration, if it is to remain in the new year, must be aimed at the right people: the establishment. Alongside that, of course, positive emotions and feelings must emerge – those being love, passion, unity and hope.

#StopFundingHate: A call for change in an era of post-truth | The Friday Article

Britain is in stasis. Ironically, for ‘leave’ voters who put a cross in the box out of a desire for change, progression is yet to take place. The general public are left confused and twiddling their thumbs as a leaked memo fuels concerns that Theresa May has ‘no plans’ for Brexit. We are forced to ‘make-do’ and accept the result of the referendum, despite no clear signs of moving forward, and whilst we must have hope, it’s likely that most people have sunk into a state of defeatism as the establishment remains in power and right-wing populism sweeps the western world.

The election of Donald Trump is the latest example of right-wing populism. Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

The EU referendum vote started the politics of emotion. We were forced to prophesise; we couldn’t predict what would happen if we voted to leave or remain a member. Granted, there were some facts – a minimal amount, mostly from an economical standpoint – but soon politicians realised that the limited supply of facts, soundbites and trump cards were not enough. It was time to play with people’s feelings. Britain Stronger in Europe  and Vote Leave opted for scaremongering, with the latter also encouraging nationalism towards the end of the campaign period. Now, months after the result, both emotions are present in our society: a fear for the future overshadowed by false patriotism and anti-immigration sentiment. Anger and frustration are the feelings to harness in order to win votes –  it was used by Vote Leave and Trump, and it will soon be adopted by other Western countries (take France’s Marine Le Pen, for example).

This change in the political climate was even noted by the Oxford English Dictionary when it came to their word of the year. ‘Post-truth’, which they defined as being when ‘objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’ is the perfect description of the strategy political parties are adopting at the moment. Yet, it cannot just be applied to Westminster, but also to the media outlets which manipulate the masses.

We only need to turn to The Daily Mail for an example of this. The outspoken right-wing newspaper wet themselves when the vote to leave the European Union came in and now, as nationalism sweeps the western world, they feel as though their over-the-top, emotive journalistic style is now justified – and can be exaggerated further.

Bound to the pessimism of journalism, and with a sense that their emotive opinions are verified after Brexit, The Daily Mail has adopted a narrative of hate and extreme nationalism. The Enemies of the People headline still continues to attract controversy to this day and demonstrates the pure vitriol fired at any news which veers away from said narrative.

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union left an anti-establishment rhetoric hanging in the air. A clear vote against the Brussels elite (amongst other things) worried right-wing politicians. Underneath the facade of warped patriotism came the concern that this vote would impact the establishment’s position. After realising that, they twisted the story. It was not the 1% responsible for most of our country’s problems, but immigrants. However, the anti-establishment sentiment in society hasn’t gone completely.

Labour still has a very large membership and more people are seeing the true definition of who and what the elite is. We’ve realised that Theresa May’s promise of being a party which works for the 99%, not ‘the privileged few’ was a broken one, as they couldn’t help but enact their right-wing policies. Whilst our say over these decisions are minimal, there’s other methods people have adopted in order to change the structure of our establishment. If we can’t change the politicians, we can change the media.

To go back to topic of The Daily Mail, a campaign called Stop Funding Hate attracted huge amounts of press coverage last week. Its aim, as described in its bio on Twitter, is to “take on the divisive hate campaigns of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express” and it received mass media attention after it encouraged toy manufacturer Lego to stop advertising with The Daily Mail.

More recently, students at the City University of London voted to ban The Sun, Daily Express and Mail newspapers from their campus because the newspapers “all actively scapegoat the working classes they so proudly claim to represent” and “publish stories that are inherently sexist”.

Whilst Lego’s withdrawal of advertising is an ‘indirect’ way of changing the media’s message, the ‘banning’ of the three papers at the university is more direct, which some have branded as censorship.

The motion itself argues that “freedom of speech should not be used as an excuse to attack the weakest and poorest members of society”, but others believe that it restricts discussion and debate. At what point does freedom of speech no longer apply? It’s a question which has lingered around in our society for a long time, but as unpopular and controversial opinions dominate politics and the right-wing media, it’s been brought to the forefront.

There’s no clear answer, but in an era of post-truth, journalists must make factual reporting their priority, rather than emotive sensationalism. If that’s what Stop Funding Hate aims to direct the far-right newspapers towards then so be it. One of the main influencers of public opinion is the media, and so if we can get rid of extensive and excessive emotive reporting, we may just see a return to the politics of fact which we desperately need.

The answer lies in change and challenge, rather than dismissal. As the spoof reporter Jonathan Pie argues in his video on Trump’s victory, the left cannot continue to shut down political debate by hurling insults at individuals with controversial or opposing opinions, as that then leads to bottling their views up until they reach the only safe place they have: the polling booth.

The Stop the Hate campaign is a wise move against tackling hatred in society, but whilst we can try to change the media outlets which influence public opinion (to an extent, a biased media does benefit a democracy), the one thing we cannot censor are the people with these opinions themselves. Otherwise, the silent voters will elect the right-wing candidate again and the sense of defeatism in society will become ever stronger.