Standards of Information and the New Millennium

In the late 80s one of my favourite rock bands, wrote a song called Somebody Save Me.  Within its lyrics it contained the following lines:

Everybody’s got opinions
But nobody’s got the answers

Somebody Save Me, Cinderella from the Album Night Songs (1986)

This seems to have become a motto for the new century.  Indeed my writing this piece is a demonstration of this.  Anybody can write anything they like and it doesn’t even matter if it is true.  Consequently people are buying into it wholesale; not only by producing ill-conceived articles, but also in people reading and believing every word they have read.

Let me illustrate: –

The outright lie.

The Brexit vote was driven by misinformation.  Remember the famous red bus that proclaimed that leaving the European Union would result in £350m a week staying in the government coffers?  Furthermore this money  could be used to support the overwhelmed NHS.  According to a BBC graphic the real figure was actually £161m, when taking into account the funds that return to Britain, either directly or indirectly.  This in itself is a substantial amount, but not what Brexiteers claimed.  It can be assumed it doesn’t take into account any reduction in tax receipts as any consequence of a potential downturn in trade as a result of Brexit.

The moral meme.

Anyone who uses social media has come across the meme, often readily recognised pictures with a comment beside it.  A personal favourite, after Cecil the lion was hunted and killed by an American Dentist, was a pride of lions on the prowl, captioned with the phrase – “we are looking for a dentist..?”  Amusing as it was, it was clearly untrue, but made a powerful point.

However when similar memes masquerade as truth it is problematic. 

Consider the so called European refugee ship that was accepted by North Africa during World War II.  I have reproduced it below.

It may seem logical that many Europeans attempted to escape Europe during the horrors of World War II and the message of our common humanity and reciprocation is indeed a moral one and thus rests easily on our consciences – so we accept it as true.

However, closer examination reveals the truth.  It may not be obvious but the picture has been de-coloured which makes it look older.  The people are so small that they become featureless but if you were too zoom in it would be obvious they are not dressed in the style of the 1940s.  However, the biggest clues are the name of the ship and its home port.  It is the Vlora, registered in Durres.  Both of these are Albanian port cities and what we are actually looking at is an attempted mass exodus from Albania after the fall of communism.  The ship crossed the Adriatic and ended up in the Italian port of Bari.

It was notorious at the time because the Italian authorities didn’t know what to do with the Albanians and most were kept in boiling conditions with little provision in Bari’s football stadium.

This meme became very popular and was viewed by millions through their social media accounts, but shouldn’t a moral message be rooted in the truth?

It also illustrates the point that anybody can use anything to say what they want.  Here is a meme I mocked up during the 2017 election to illustrate what I am saying.

It is obviously untrue and nobody believed it as it completely lacked subtlety, but there is a tendency nowadays to believe what we read, but not only that, but to share it further if it happens to coincide with our beliefs and values.

Readers need to take responsibility and be more discerning in what they share.  In the past journalists had to comply to certain standards and were brought back into line if they strayed – think of the paparazzi in the aftermath of the car crash that killed Princess Diana. 

When studying, students are required to check the reliability of their sources and reference them to demonstrate not only their trustworthiness, but also the diligence of the study.

Let me finish with a simple illustration to make my point.  We have all probably received a ‘Nigerian’ email, which typically is from a widow claiming that her husband has just passed away and her money is locked into an account that she needs your help to access.  She will give you a cool $1m if you can share your banking details to enable her to get the outstanding $9m.

We read it on the net and immediately dismissed it as a scam and unless from a recognised media source we should treat all information with similar scepticism.

If fact, embrace that last paragraph.  Treat everything with doubt, until you check it out – even from so called reliable sources.  I challenge you to check the information I have shared here and take me to task with any information I have shared that is wrong.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019