Fake news is the real threat

How easy is it to spot fake news?
How easy is it to spot fake news?

After the latest flurry of late-night social media posts from the President of the United States, fake news is becoming a real threat to global politics today, writes Coun Ryan Stephenson.

Last week, the presidential twitter account ‘@realDonaldTrump’ (the adjectival prefix before his name presumably in place in case we can’t quite believe this is the actual twitter account of the 45th president) retweeted an online video posted by the fringe, far-right group Britain First.

The video, originally from the Netherlands, purported to show a migrant attacking a Dutch boy on crutches. The migrant was, in fact, not a migrant but a Dutch national of Muslim faith and the boy was, in fact, not a boy but a young adult. Nevertheless, the ease at which fake news now spreads online resulted in a focus on whether or not the assailant was a migrant and ignored the fact that he had just attacked a semi-disabled man on crutches.

The influence of fake news in politics is giving a platform for the political correctness brigade to hijack. The result in this case was that the attacker became the victim, instead of outrage at the fact he attacked a man on crutches, instead he received sympathy for being the victim of racial profiling by a far-right organisation - and the leader of the free world.

This creates a problem for mainstream politics: the far-right is happy to use fake news to spread division in society as civil unrest makes it easier to exploit the fears of voters, and those on the left of politics are happy for this to happen because it enables them to point to all other parties and accuse them of sharing the same views as the far-right. Coincidentally, it also allows those on the left to exploit for their own political gain the public’s readiness to believe such fake news.

A recent poll in the United States showed that 85 per cent of people share a news story online having only read the headline. This is changing the nature of political debate in Britain and one example proves this better than any other.

In media interviews surrounding the Budget a number of hard-left politicians on Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench pounced on the paradise papers exposé. They suggested that the rich are avoiding tax and this is the cause of all the country’s ills. Easy.

No, it’s fake news. The real news – or reality as it used to be known - is that the UK enjoys the smallest tax gap of the G20, with a number of efforts put in place since 2010 resulting in the difference between the tax owed and the tax collected is now at a record low. In fact, it is because successive governments changed tax rules that were in place under Tony Blair’s government that HM Treasury has collected a further £120 billion of tax that would otherwise have gone uncollected.

This does not however make a catchy headline and what is becoming a reality in politics today is that by the time you’re in the position of having to refute fake news you’ve already lost the narrative.

Fake news is a dangerous tool. The Russian regime uses fake news as a strand of hybrid warfare to cause instability, division and civil unrest in western democracies and only a collective effort from our allied countries can destabilise this very real security threat.

But political parties must also acknowledge their role in the spread of fake news and it’s time they put aside their short-term political gain for the good of our country’s long-term stability.