Tuesday, May 10, 2016

If you thought the competing EU referendum campaigns were bad ...

I wrote an article in last week's Whitehaven News about the problem that, because people get so much of our information these days from social media, on which it is far too easy to block views of people you disagree with from reaching you, there is a risk that people may be able to prevent themselves from hearing unwelcome truths.

Anybody who has glanced at this blog in the past few months will have gathered that I have been disappointed with the level of accuracy displayed by too many people on both sides of the EU debate. However, because this issue runs across party lines, most have us have at least been exposed to the other side's arguments because most of us have friends who we normally agree with who take very different views about Brexit.

In my case, as a floater who think both sides have a case, I'm uncomfortably aware that several of my friends think there are no valid arguments at all for leaving and others think there are no valid arguments at all for staying. But at least on this one it is impossible not to be aware of the existence of the other point of view, even if what people hear is often a ridiculous parody of the arguments actually being presented (as for example in the manner the PM's views that the EU has contributed to peace in Europe was presented as a threat that World War III will break out the day after a Brexit vote - and I exaggerate much less than the newspaper headlines did.)

But if we think that we have a problem with accuracy during the EU membership debate, a deeply worrying article in The Washington Post points out how bad the flight from fact during the current US Presidential Election campaign has been.

It is called "A depressingly accurate 29-word description of the dismal state of our politics."

The 29 words are

"What has taken hold is an alternate reality, a virtual reality, where lies are accepted as truth and where conspiracy theories take root in the fertile soil of falsehoods."

Where the US goes today Britain all to often goes tomorrow. Everyone with an interest in politics ought to read this article with a view to trying to prevent that happening.

To give you a sample:

"No one has been fact-checked more by “the media” — including WaPo’s own Fact Checker blog — than Trump. No one has received more Four Pinocchios ratings — denoting an outright falsehood — than Trump. (Seventy percent of the two dozen or so Trump statements the Fact Checker has examined have been awarded Four Pinocchios.) And no one cares less about those three previous sentences than Trump and the legions of supporters who propelled him to the Republican presidential nomination."

"Glenn Kessler, who runs the Fact Checker, wrote a piece about Trump’s post-truth campaign over the weekend. Here’s a key line:
"Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. He appears to care little about the facts; his staff does not even bother to respond to fact-checking inquiries."
Here are a few examples of Trump's "reality free" comments:

The frightening thing is that although Trump is almost certainly the worst of the post-truth politicians the propensity to ignore reality - or imagine one can create a new one - pre-dates him and is showing in others besides The Donald.

I do not believe that effective democracy can survive this level of indifference to the truth.

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