Should we be “immunised” against Fake News?

From the moment that our infant minds are blown by the intoxicating information overload of curious colours, shapes and sounds, we are hooked. Our parents and teachers provide the gateway learning that leads to a lifetime of addiction, with cravings fed by a vast marketplace of clinical facts and recreational fiction. In an age of intravenous connectivity, differentiating between the two is increasingly difficult. We are dazed and confused by daily doses of disinformation, rhetoric, conspiracies, photoshopping, scripted-reality, satire, and alternative facts. The side effects are managed by exponentially more potent measures of politically “correct” opinion-suppressants; but recent events point to an overdose-induced adverse reaction.

Last year, Americans were told that they should be happy with their lot, and given a clear instruction to elect the approved continuity candidate as President. Only a “basket of deplorables” would fail to comply.  The free(ish) world is now led by a bizarre Marvel Universe villain; an oversized Umpa-Lumpa with undersized hands. A stark warning for the Ancien Regimes of the West: Either find a release valve, as Britons have with Brexit (#RIPUKIP) and Icelanders did by replacing politicians and bankers in the aftermath of the financial crash, or prepare for a populist insurgency.

Before 2016, losing was so alien to the controlling plutocrats, that public ignorance was the only plausible explanation. Rather than taking responsibility for failed policies and arguments, the bitter and condescending ‘post-fact’ narrative was created to deflect the blame.

This was epitomised by the reaction to Michael Gove’s infamous “sick of experts” comment, as it was promptly stripped of context and held up as evidence of the total abandonment of ‘truth’. But Gove was right: The Europhile elite erroneously promoted monetary union and promised that immigration would remain low despite surrendering border controls. The Neo-Keynesian establishment continued to espouse fiscal irresponsibility as we careered towards financial collapse and muttered “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”. The fallibility of managerial states is clear, and appeals to authority no longer work.

Across Western Europe, the voting public’s preference for freedom of thought is inconvenient for paternalistic governments that must now fight their typically authoritarian urge to apply rules, regulations and outright bans. In the UK, we are told that the Snooper’s Charter is ”for our own good”, and that the state should have full access to your private WhatsApp messages; in Germany, governing parties want to force Facebook to self-regulate during their upcoming election campaigns by imposing huge fines for non-compliance; and in France, Islamic terrorism is used as an excuse to implement censorship without judicial oversight.

A parent’s desire to protect their off-spring’s young minds, is as self-evident as the need to restrict access to sharp knives and bleach. But should the relationship between citizens and their elected representatives really be that of dependent and guardian?

Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the emergent inter-generational disparity. After years of childhood subservience and adherence to statist indoctrination, youthful student activists find themselves lost in the expansive adult world. Their calls for safe spaces, boycotts, and no platform policies, reveal a yearning to be coddled when playtime is too rough. Conversely, their cynical elders distrust those that seek to restrict freedom of speech or talk of combating populism as a euphemism for treating them like kids. After years of opinion-forming confirmation bias, they trust their own interpretation of events and refuse to do as they’re told.

The officialdom has always been sceptical of ‘the wisdom of the crowd’. After the recent bouts of disobedience, they now denounce the “tyranny of the majority”. Perturbed that we no longer unquestioningly accept state-approved opinion as fact, the realisation is dawning that blind faith and received wisdom are being replaced by a vast marketplace of ideas. The internet now enables us to by-pass the controlling influences of the main-stream Fourth Estate, with unmoderated opinions freely exchanged through the Fifth – blogs and social media.

Can the masses be trusted to form their own opinions though? Senior Labour MP, Michael Dugher, doesn’t think so, warning that British politics risks being “infected by the contagion“ of fake news stories. Researchers at Cambridge University claim to have discovered an antidote: A ‘psychological vaccine’ to immunise the public against fake news. The central thesis being that “misinformation can cancel out the influence of accurate statements, but if legitimate facts are delivered with an ‘inoculation’ – warning doses of misinformation –  some of the positive influence is preserved”.  But who should be the judge of what is “legitimate” and what is “positive”?

Treating alternative ideas as viruses is nothing new. Academics and journalists routinely inject counter-arguments into their work, to neuter competing theories in the minds of their readers.  Even the highly-trusted BBC, administers politically-motivated “health warnings” by flagging up “right-wing” or “free market” opinions while presenting interventionist views as uncontroversial truths. Thanks to the unique way that the BBC is funded – through extortion – they are motivated to propagate the insidious belief that the ever-growing state both can and should solve every problem.

With 24/7 news feeds to fill, researchers are incentivised to hunt for grievances with which to complete the question “What is the government doing about…”. And with this comes a form of self-fulfilling pessimism that makes up around 77% of our televised news consumption. Combine that with gloomy weather and a self-deprecating humour, and there’s little wonder that binge drinking is our national past-time!