Neon-lit Tory Lies
It an axiom of political discourse that if a Tory is speaking or writing then a Tory is lying. The public know the Tory government lies constantly and brazenly about the NHS, housing, education, public transport, welfare provision, pensions, etc. and the public know the Tory government lies about pretending to tackle mass tax avoidance.
The Tory government and its enablers are aware their destructive intent is common knowledge. They are aware their continuous lies, obfuscations, misdirections, misrepresentations and confidence tricks are transparent and read easily. The typical Tory persona essays detached arrogance and confidence but Tories know they are not conning the majority of people.
The growing appeal of left of centre politics in Britain is partly a consequence of the disdain felt by many for Tories and Tory-lite like Liberal Democrats or Progress. Equally, the cohesiveness and focus of resurgent left-wing politics, both within and outside Labour, has helped to expose and highlight Tory dishonesty. For the Tories, the failure of the general election gamble this year emphasised the decline of the public’s faith in Tory integrity.
If the lies are no longer believed by enough people, with the number of naysayers increasing all the time, and if the Tories have nothing to offer, and if their shambolic, directionless and duplicitous handling of Brexit produces only ridicule, then they need a new tactic to cling onto power.
Censorship of opposition
A year before the 2015 general election the Tory/Lib Dem government created a gagging law to prevent charities revealing the effects of government cuts to vital public services; this law was initially applicable during election campaigns. The purpose of the law was to hide the devastating consequences of Tory policy from the voters. A month prior to the 2017 general election the Tories demanded financial details from charities, including money spent on awareness campaigns about the effects of government policy, for the year up to the date of the election with a concomitant threat of criminal proceedings. This gagging law enhancement, enacted without parliamentary approval, was introduced to stop charities from ever spending any money to expose the severity of government social policy.
A focussed parliamentary opposition, a well-organised support group – Momentum, and a healthy exchange of information and ideas via social media involving various left-of-centre perspectives have all been part of an effective challenge to the Tory government and have been a strong counter to lopsided balance in the media. To stifle this success the establishment response is to seek to restrict the capacity to communicate.
In some countries the governments restrict communication with the use of force and outside of parliamentary, judicial or journalistic inspection. In less openly authoritarian countries like Britain forceful tactics are considered uncouth. Thus, the Tory government has needed to be creative by grossly over-exaggerating a problem and developing the framework for some censorship; new laws can then be used to silence critics.
The Tories’ aim to censor the internet was signposted in the manifesto ahead of the 2017 general election including direct censorship and prohibitive cost.
As tools to be used to enable censorship of opposition, the Tories and like-minded politicians and enablers are trying to direct consensus regarding two invented problems, namely fake news and intimidation of politicians.
An account of how intimidation of politicians has been used to try to create the groundwork for further censorship of political opposition is here: Tories preparing to censor revolutionary politics: Intimidation of politicians.
Fake news is a directional description applied to (mostly) online information that is posted with the author’s full knowledge of its mendacity. In t’olden days, such comments were classified as satire and/or having a laugh. News, meaning serious information, can easily and quickly be checked for veracity by media outlets and by members of the public. The tendency for some untrue stories to gain an online life of their own is inconvenient but not a sufficient reason to want to erase everything apart from absolute verifiable truths.
Tories and their cohorts are not worried about fake stories but they are very worried about the success of left-wing voices online. The popularity of the fake news scare has created a spurious opportunity to restrict online communication: Fake news is cited as the enemy to be fought but revolutionary politics is the real target. Bankers’ puppet Emmanuel Macron has stated his intent to change the law in France to reduce opposition during election campaigns and he has presented his plans as a response to fake news: Macron censorship. The Tories have a similar plan.
Damian Collins, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) parliamentary committee, has been on a mission to combat social media fake news for a year. “The growing phenomenon of fake news is a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general” he declared in January 2017 in Collins on fake news. “The committee will be looking into the sources of fake news, what motivates people to spread it, and how it has been used around elections and other important political debates.”
During the campaign for the 2017 general election most of the daily newspapers published a barrage of fake stories about Labour, with the motivation of supporting the Tories. However, Collins has not started an investigation into fake news on the front pages of newspapers because he doesn’t want parliament to interfere in newspaper stories, as he explained (also in January 2017) in Collins on Leveson/IPSO:
“Press regulation is an important issue. But the greatest threat to the credibility of the media no longer emanates from newspapers. Instead it comes via the internet, where fake news spreads without regulation through social media platforms and numerous other channels. That should be a greater concern for us now.”
Collins’ support for the discredited and disreputable IPSO sits comfortably with his pretended ignorance of the motivation of most of the national newspapers in Britain.
To promote the invented problem of social media fake news, Collins has sought the assistance of the largest social media platforms Google, Facebook and Twitter. Clearly, such platforms are not vanguards of a revolution – (they exist to make a lot of money quickly for their shareholders and, usually, indulge in mass avoidance of tax) – but the users of these platforms have utilised them positively to help with political activism. The immediate world-wide exchange of information and political opinions online has become an effective challenge to filtered news and state political propaganda. This challenge scares not just governments but also the international financial elite that the governments serve.
Some authoritarian governments have simply shut down various social media tools to restrict online activism but the Tories have needed to be craftier. Presented as a response to “fake news” and to cross-border political interference, Collins has conducted a pantomime wherein he has acted out his attempts to coerce, persuade and threaten the social media companies. He sent a series of public letters to Google, Twitter and Facebook to which he published his analysis of their responses and their representatives attended a DCMS select committee hearing.
His first letter to Facebook began with a plea for information about “Russian-linked accounts,“
“I am writing to you to request information regarding the use of Facebook advertising and pages by Russian-linked accounts in the lead up to, and during, the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and the 2017 British general election.” (Full letter at foot of blog)
and he concluded a letter to Twitter on December 14th 2017 with
“It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you. If Twitter is serious about cooperating with the work of this committee and tackling the spread of disinformation then you should provide me with a full response to the clear questions that I set out [in earlier letters] no later than Monday 15th January 2018.”
As the quotes above show, Collins’ letters were clunky, pompous, condescending and displayed mock authority. Despite his claim of “clear questions” there was no clarity about what Collins identified as a problem or what he wanted from the recipients. The purpose of these letters was not to obtain any information. They were intended as public signposts to direct attention to the issue of social media fake news. Any ensuing disputes between social media companies and the Tory government will also be part of this signposting.
The December letter to Twitter was a follow-up response to information being sent by Twitter to Collins that he felt was inadequate. He was equally (or pretended to be) unsatisfied by information supplied by Facebook – quoted in Collins Facebook response.
“It would appear that no work has been done by Facebook to look for Russian activity around the EU referendum, other than from funded advertisements from those accounts that had already been identified as part of the US Senate’s investigation. No work has been done by Facebook to look for other fake accounts and pages that could be linked to Russian-backed agencies and which were active during the EU referendum, as I requested. Are we to believe that Russian-backed targeting of voters through social media with fake news was limited only to Twitter during the referendum, when both Twitter and Facebook had been used in the USA during the presidential election?“
Again, Collins chose to make allegations as statements of fact and he presumed that he had any authority over Facebook.
His interactions with the social media companies have been a drama. The purpose of this drama is to create and keep newsworthy the concocted concept of the problem of fake news.
Right-wingers seeking to reduce freedoms can always rely on support from useful idiots among the illiberal liberal community. The Guardian’s Alex Hern might claim his job includes reporting on fake news because he is a ‘technology features writer at the Guardian’ but that job title doesn’t imply every such report is written from Collins’ perspective like a PR memo from the latter’s private office. Both Hern on Facebook (“Facebook has been slammed [by Collins]“) and Hern on Twtter (“Twitter has been attacked [by Collins]“) began with Hern’s facsimile of Collins’ PR lines. In January 2017 the Guardian’s Jane Martinson wrote a bland article about Collins, Martinson on Collins, wherein she said “Collins is a moderate” with no context to what that means and she regurgitated his anti-social media diatribe without any counter-analysis or comment; she presented Collins’ arguments as if they were uncontestable.
Collins’ (recently sacked) Tory colleague Damian Green showed that the campaign to create an anti social media consensus has no ethical boundaries by his comments in a speech to journalists, quoted in Green on fake news. He attacked independent left-wing news sites Canary and Skwawkbox, conflated them with the far-right cabal of professional trolls at Breitbart, and said “If we don’t respect each other motives then we risk feeding an atmosphere of increasing hatred which at the most horrible of extremes led to the killing of Jo Cox.” Canary‘s Editor-in-Chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza’s excellent response (from the same article) is worth quoting in full.
“The Secretary of State does a disservice to himself and his office with these appalling comments. Jo Cox lost her life due to bigotry and intolerance – she was killed by a racist man with Nazi sympathies. For decades, such hateful ideas have been actively promoted by mainstream outlets like The Sun and The Daily Mail. Every day, these outlets are attacking ethnic minorities, immigrants, LGBT+ communities and people who rely on the welfare state. Instead of speaking out against these billionaire-backed peddlers of bigotry, Mr Green is attacking one of the few independently owned, progressive outlets in the UK. An outlet led by a gay woman of colour as Editor-in-Chief. The truth is that we set up The Canary precisely because of the one-sided reporting already happening in the mainstream media – we are presenting the other side of that story. And we do that as probably the most diverse media outlet in the whole country. Our mission is to disrupt the hateful messages of the right-wing UK press, reminding people that we have more in common than the superficial differences. By disrupting those messages, we have helped to change the public conversation. This will always be threatening to those who benefit from an unjust status quo.”
In February, Matt Turner from Evolve Politics had written on how left-wing news sites counter false reporting of much of the mainstream media: Turner on fake news. The percentage of purposefully fake news in mainstream media, in the literature and verbal contributions of think-tank members and in the lobbying of PR consultancies is significantly greater in volume and reach than any similar inventions in independent media. Right-wing free market think tanks are created to promote a particular political perspective and their main tactic is to espouse that view while pretending to be independent. Their members inveigle access to media and are allowed to present their fallacious arguments without challenge and without queries about the funding of the think-tanks. Political PR consultancies are professional con artists.
Giles Kenningham, an adviser to David Cameron for the 2015 general election campaign, “founded” PR consultancy Trafalgar Strategy that “advises on reputation and media management, campaigns, public affairs and complex communication challenges.” That quote translates as “advises politicians how to mislead, distract and lie successfully.” The Spectator magazine, known for its loose relationship with truth, gave a platform to Kenningham for him to accuse social media networks of the crimes that he, the government he worked for and the magazine he wrote for, have committed as a key component of their communication. In the same paragraph in Kenningham in Spectator he said “now it’s [fake news] threatening to undermine democracies across the world” and “you can normally assume newspapers, irrespective of their political stance, have sourced and doubled checked their facts.” No, the newspapers that support the Tories have no interest in facts. “Disinformation has become a new front in the cyberwar” claimed Kenningham. Yes, all the official Tory government department, minister and party social media accounts spout only lies, misinformation and misdirection. For example, @Conservatives, the official Tory party twitter account, is entirely lies.
“Politicians so far in this country have chosen not to regulate. But I think the time has come for them to act. To be quite blunt, will it take an act of unimaginable horror triggered by the spread of false information for the UK government to wake up?“
exclaimed Kenningham dramatically. The party that he helped to be elected is enabling “unimaginable horrors” in Yemen alongside continuous misinformation from government ministers. Kenningham’s job was to advise Cameron how best to deceive. His concern for fake reporting and its effects is beyond hypocrisy.
In his Spectator piece, Kenningham mentions the BBC’s project to teach children about fake news. BBC newsreaders will visit schools to educate children “to identify real news and filter out fake or false information.” In BBC Project on fake news James Harding, the (thankfully) soon to be departed Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, said
“Never has it been so important for young people to develop their critical thinking and to be news literate, and have the skills to filter out fakery from the truth, especially on their busy social media feeds. BBC News, as the most trusted news provider and home of Reality Check, is ideally placed to bring this project to schools and young people around the country.”
Perhaps, Harding’s successor Fran Unsworth could ask the producer of Question Time to take the course to ensure that fake “independent” “experts” from right-wing think-tanks don’t slip onto the show as panellists, and she could invite some of the BBC’s reporters to check their own social media output. Harding wants young people “to develop their critical thinking” but his career has been guided by stifling critical thought. The recent behaviour of the BBC, particularly the reluctance to interrogate Tory ministers properly when they are guests on TV and radio, means it is not adequately qualified to be a leader against fake news.
The BBC’s project isn’t necessary: Young people are naturally wary. In BBC Project on fake news 2 the BBC said “last month a survey by media watchdog Ofcom found almost three-quarters of children aged between 12 and 15 were aware of so-called fake news and that half of them has read a story they suspected of being false.” That is, fake news is spotted easily by younger people and so no need for the scare stories.
Fake News: A fake problem and a fake enemy
Fake news exists but it is not the problem that the Tory government and cohorts claim it is. The campaign against fake news is really a campaign against political challenge; the former is being used as a reason to silence the latter.
Links to related blogs
Tories preparing to censor revolutionary politics: Intimidation of politicians
Tories preparing to censor revolutionary politics: Bew Report
Damian Green Fears Left-Wing Media
Tom Watson’s (aborted) fake news inquiry
Transparent politicians and transparent media are nearing extinction
BBC News: Bias and Balance
Screaming Heads and Professional Trolls
Tory Manifesto 2017: Lies and Slander
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