I’ve just taken part in an Open Democracy webinar on ‘After the Facts?’ – the truth about fake news. The title refers to the book by one of the speakers, Marcus Gilroy Ware, who lectures at the University of the West of England.
In a conversation ranging around neoliberalism, misinformation and manipulation, both agreed that the world was increasingly dysfunctional, but slightly to my surprise both also agreed that this was largely caused by the Thatcher/Reagan consensus and subsequent neoliberal takeover.
Thus Facebook and Twitter have been promoting truth – but usually only as that of the highest bidder. Only recently has Twitter suggested that not all Trump’s tweets were truthful… And Facebook has yet to respond.
Both speakers pointed out that the so called centre is just as ideological as anyone else. It too, believes in shareholder democracy. Which is still truth as valued by a highest bid.
This is also, it seems to me, an eventual and unfortunate consequence of ‘moneyness’.
Because of the pervasiveness of the ‘shareholder democracy’ that is neoliberalism, when Trump said he was draining the swamp, nobody could actually deny there was a swamp, even when many thought that Trump was in no position to drain it.
Thus a partial truth gained the momentum of complete truth.
The problem for journalists was that they couldn’t actually deny this but they were going for neutrality not objectivity. Neutrality, the two suggested, meant that the powerful were let off the hook – rather like when climate change deniers were given equal air-time on the BBC. Objectivity would have prevented this, albeit probably imperfectly, but a more robust fact checking regime was felt to be very important. The old joke about one man says it’s sunny and the other says it’s raining is instructive; it is a ‘neutral’ report, yet meanwhile the journalist has completely failed to look outside.
In the end the failure of journalism to challenge the market driven society has, they concluded, actually led to journalism being emasculated and degraded. Journalism is no longer remunerative and has mostly lost what moral authority it had ever had. Journalism was looking less, and with less rigour, at society’s problems. The journalism of Public Relations is, I’d suggest also a significant factor in its decline.
Conspiracy theories were generally abhorred – but ironically they did both agree that actually power and its systems are pretty much by definition conspiratorial.
I fear they’re correct.
And although they didn’t say this, I think we have to conclude that in consequence:
One of the great ‘achievements’ of Conservatism has been convincing so many people to vote against their own interests – and be in favour of that abstract noun, liberty. (For whom and for why is never asked).
Conservatives’ other achievement is that they’ve managed to pit everybody against each other and divert the blame from government. This is identity politics.
Even in the Christmas lockdown – or free lockdown? we are all being given the opportunity not to listen to a government that is using its best and expert advice, to in turn, advise us – but to make your own bloody mind up and on your head be it.