The Albert Memorial is still there

comment on the news of the day & other things

Hello

This is simon gray's blog. On it I write mostly commentary on the news of the day, but sometimes I write about other things too. Why's it called 'The Albert Memorial is still there'? It's after a James Burke documentary series 'The Real Thing' in which in one episode as a television news reporter he files a live report announcing that the Albert Memorial is still there - seconds later, it blows up.

Lies, News, and Social Media

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen various permutations of this image being shared across the internets:

debate

It is, of course, a fake.

The bottom right image labelled Debating MPs’ pay has been determined to actually be a screengrab of Prime Minister’s Question Time – the big showcase event of the parliamentary week. I’ve no idea what the other images are – the bottom left image appears to be when the tellers come back in to the house to announce the result of a division – with a full house like that, I’d predict it to be the annual Budget Debate – again, a parliamentary set piece. The images above may or may not be what they claim to be – but actually, it doesn’t matter anyway.

One of the problems with this image – apart from the fact that whoever constructed it deliberately set out to tell lies about their opponents to the supporters of their causes – is that it propagates a myth that all an MP’s job is is to sit there on their arse listening to their colleagues and opponents guffing on all day. That is just a tiny part of their job – they have committees to sit on (where actually most of the legislative and scrutiny work is done), they have case work involving problems raised to them by their constituents to be attending to, they have surgeries in their constituencies to attend, and indeed from time to time they have speeches at local schools to give and garden fetes to open. And actually, when they are in the building working in their offices, they have BBC Parliament on in the background, so they’re still listening to what each other has to say even if they’re not present in the room it’s being said in. And also, for every image of an empty House of Commons we the public can share, every MP can almost certainly share 10 images of empty public meeting halls they’ve spoken in front of.

Another problem I have with the image is they way in which it seeks to create a hierarchy of importance; y’know, much as we like to knock our elected representatives, they are all very busy people and parliamentary time is limited – you can reasonably assume that if something is being debated in parliament, it’s important. So why should one thing be deemed so important everybody absolutely must be there to debate it and that other thing they’re debating people can have the afternoon off? I mean, actually the MPs’ expenses scandal, and the payrises they keep getting every year, are matters of great public controversy and interest – so frankly, I don’t think there’s anything outrageous about them all turning up to talk about it even if the image was true.

But the main problem I have with the image is the fact that it’s a deliberate lie. In political campaigning, there is a lot of nuance – often the same sets of statistics could be used to support many different positions depending on what the campaigner chooses to focus on; this kind of manipulation of the presentation of the facts, whilst annoying, is reasonably understandable, and opposite sides of an issue can use the same facts to present their cases in a grown up manner and allow everybody else to draw a conclusion depending on whose case they find more convincing.

But campaigning of the nature of this image and others like it is a whole different case – this is an instance where somebody, regardless of the other problems above, deliberately and calculatingly took a series of images and described them according to their own prejudices, knowing full well they weren’t what they were claiming them to be. And the lie has spread around the world before the truth has had chance to put its boots on.

Anybody who wilfully tells a lie in order to make a political point gets no respect from me, regardless of whether or not I’m likely to support the general thrust of their point.

One of the overriding narratives of the current phase of what now is called social media that was initiated with Twitter and Facebook is how the mainstream media is lying to us, and only on social media can you find the truth. This is bullshit – in my experience, when people are referring to ‘the truth’, usually what they’re talking about is ‘information which supports their pre-existing opinions and prejudices’. And the way in which images like this one spread around demonstrates perfectly how the truth is no more likely to be found from your friends on Facebook than it is from the News at 10.

So before sharing that powerful image that makes a telling point with all your friends and followers, please – attempt to verify its truthfulness first, or at least share with a warning attached.

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