Post Factual Peddler

Post Factual Peddler

The internet has been great. It has democratised news and information. No longer do we need to rely on the filtering of news editors to determine on our behalf what is and isn’t news. We now have the ability to search the news and information on the world for ourselves. Whilst this has been liberating it also can be dangerous. In addition to seeking out a diversity of opinion we can also be guilty of seeking out news that only re-affirms our beliefs. We no longer need to hear uncomfortable truths that challenge our outlook on the world. This can lead to sentiments being re-enforced and the longer we sit within an echo-chamber of our own opinions the more people can get angry when we come across a counter position.


In some aspects of the media in order to minimise this frustration at hearing feedback which is counter to accepted norms, attempts have been made to offer balance by always seeking out an alternative opinion or alternative information however just because a different opinion exists this does not mean that there is any validity to it. The consequence appears to be the concept that having an another opinion is having a valid opinion and that an alternate position is as valid whether it comes from you or I or someone who has studied the topic for 20+ years.


We have seen this in the climate change debate where over 99% of experts agree that climate change is caused by humans. With such overwhelming evidence or expertise coming down in favour of one side it seems irrational to have an alterative position ever voiced on news programmes, but we do. We saw consequences of this recently in the UK with Michael Goves’ famous “people have had enough of experts” statement during the Brexit debate. This allowed unsupported statements by the leave side to be given equal credence to researched and factual statements by remain and as we go into election day in the States, we have seen this in spades via Mr Trump.


In this USA election, Trump has told the most lies of any candidate in the history of Presidential campaigns. The theme of the campaign seems to be that facts are an irrelevance, it is opinions that matter and the person who shouts the loudest has the “best” opinion. It is in these post factual times that the echo chamber of the internet and social media really comes into its own because these opinion statements get repeated, reinforced and supported by evidence which, upon a rational review, does nothing of the sort. The problem is the volume with which these statements are then repeated and left unchallenged due to intimidation or due to the diversity of the media where a challenge to a stated position may not be heard because it’s not within the remit of a person’s chosen information sources. In that echo-chamber world these statements or opinions become fact and ignore the simple truth – Opinions are like arseholes, everybody’s got one but that doesn’t mean that I want to see yours.


During one of US presidential debates Clinton pointed out (factually) where Trump had made ridiculous or contradictory statements and in reply Trump shouted “Wrong” or “Not True”. It was true but the moderator played the role the media often play in this post factual world in being passive whilst two counter opinions (one factual, one not) compete in a struggle between can shout the loudest. Whilst watching this I felt there was a familiarity of what I was seeing and it occurred to me that this post factual nonsense of Donald Trump has echoes in the nonsense world of Scottish football.


Readers may recall that I was on Sky News 18 months ago with a Rangers supporter discussing the forthcoming first encounter between the 2 sides in the Scottish Cup. If you watched what you probably don’t not know is that filming was stopped on 3 or 4 occasions as I stated that the “debate” was becoming a nonsense. As per Trump/Clinton The Rangers fan was just making arbitrary comments regarding UEFA or FIFA’s position on his club. When I countered this he would just say “FACT”. When I then asked for supporting evidence and where this had been written/stated he would tell me to go and look it up myself or say “It’s a fact! UEFA said” or “FIFA said”. Eventually I would stop and say “this is ridiculous. You have a debate where one side just says ‘FACT’. You have to support your ‘FACT’ with evidence” (I was reminded of the Monty Python Argument sketch).


It is in this non-factual world where most Rangers fans exist. In this non-factual world supporting evidence comes not from independent sources but from the echo chamber of fans forums and their own social media accounts where statements are made and then supported by their mate. In times gone by you would be ridiculed for making a statement based only on the say so of “my mate down the pub” yet that is exactly what is accompanying many of the assertions in this post factual world. Just because a comment is read on a message board or website doesn’t mean it’s any different to the opinion of the guy down the pub.


The liberation of the internet is that everyone can have a voice but despite declining sales the media still have a role to play in giving views and opinions credence; this credence is after all what makes the media mainstream. What gives them relevance is challenging the echo-chamber comments and debunking the nonsense. Staying passive whilst nonsense statements are made makes them worthless.


An alternative narrative has arisen around the Rangers story. Repeated ad nausea within their own echo-chamber, it has gone unchallenged when it leaked out into the mainstream. Rangers went bust but they created their own narrative of “demotion” and “holding companies” to paper over the fact that they let their club die yet rather than stick with the legally and factually correct version. As this narrative gained traction within their own line community it started to leak out and went unchallenged but like all unchallenged myths and conspiracy theories, the passive ignorance is seen as tacit acceptance by those who want to believe.


There will be many reading this thinking so what and I have sympathy with that view. We are metaphorically, commercially and in the sense of international competition, in a different league to that fledgling club. To borrow a phrase of the tin foil hat exponent in chief we are “off the radar” when compared with them. One day in the medium to long-term they will get their shit in order. It may be after 10, 15 or 20 in a row but, as the club with the biggest fan base after us, one day they will be able to mount a challenge. On that day they will claim trophy number x and title number y and it will infuriate you, but after years of passive acceptance their false narrative will have become the norm.


The modern media world will always provide a voice to even the most ludicrous conspiracy theory. Discovery, National Geographic and other “factual” channels provide the most outlandish theories an avenue for broadcast. The editors may be showing for viewing figures only but their unquestioning passive acceptance of the proposition results in ludicrous theories gaining credence.


Like every post factual nonsense the initial reaction from the sane and intelligent is to leave the loonies to chat among themselves but as we are seeing, this just leads to the nonsense becoming “fact”. The Rangers myth must therefore be challenged at every opportunity. When you hear the BBC refer to “demotion” this should be challenged. When you hear an idiot referring to the holding company going bust. Don’t let it lie. Remind them – they let their club die. Post factual nonsense must be challenged otherwise one day it’s the sane ones who’ll be in the minority.