In My View - 1st March 2018

‘Fake News’ was the phrase of 2017. As with many things, Donald Trump has taken credit for it but whatever the origins it is everywhere and has come to mean different things to different people. I don’t mind the occasional robust disagreement but describing a differing point of view as fake news to debunk it and also seem media savvy is not very persuasive.

More serious than this lazy line of arguing is real Fake News, the potentially state sponsored sort that may have affected the result of the US Presidential election and that many Governments are only just starting to understand. Using automated social media accounts or ‘bots’ working at a relentless pace it is possible to spread disinformation far and wide. Crucially the impact of this depends on how people ‘get their news’. The online world has grown alongside the information revolution and for a long time a shift towards personalisation has dominated news, retail and advertising. At its most sophisticated, bot driven fake news will not only show you a story but also make you think that people just like you are reading it, agreeing with it and sharing it with others. To an extent people have always been more open to news that broadly fits into their own world view.

Everyone agrees that this is a big problem and something needs to be done but it is not straightforward. The big social media firms are based in California and although Mark Zuckerberg and others have committed to tackle the problem there have been few meaningful steps. Last month the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a dedicated national security communications unit and in Westminster the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is currently running an enquiry which will include what effect Fake News is having on traditional journalism.

My sense is that in a bid to be heard over all the competing noise news is tending towards the sensationalist at the expense of expertise and detail. This is certainly the case with EU news but also the NHS and social care. In the past I have found cases of a lack of credible and detailed evidence in the planning system and I very much hope the current South Somerset District Council local plan review will be reassuring on that front. Housing, healthcare, our future border arrangements; these are some of the most important issues around and mustn’t be determined by who is shouting the loudest. The responsibility of those in positions of influence to be accurate and fair is now greater than ever.

As always, if you would like to get in touch about these issues, if I can be of any help with a problem you may have or if you would like to make an appointment at one of my regular advice surgeries, please do email or call 01935314321.