The war for our minds has seen a new development with the news that a British charity has been given the job of fact-checking UK Facebook posts.
Full Fact is targeting information that it sees as being the most damaging, such as fake medical information, false election statistics and false stories around terror attacks.
UK Facebook users can report posts for Full Facts to review, and posts will be then labelled as true, not true or a mixture when they are shared. “False” content will not be deleted, but will appear lower in the news feed.
Full Fact’s mission is not just about checking the accuracy of Facebook posts. It also monitors politicians’ speeches for twisting the facts.
Looking at Full Fact’s website and Facebook page, it seems to me that most of the factual information they are checking and presenting is quite innocuous. It’s important for them to prove that they have no political bias if they want to keep their charity status.
But I think having a charity checking what people post on social media sets a worrying precedent.
Full Fact was founded in 2009 by Will Moy, a former political researcher. Its chair is former Conservative party donor Michael Samuel, and its board of trustees includes several peers from the House of Lords. Funding sources include Google’s Digital News Initiative, the Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundations.
Full Fact’s first application for charitable status was declined, however it reapplied in 2013, basing its application on the “advancement of education”, which was approved in 2014.
Is this really charitable work? The Collins dictionary definition of charity is “an organization which raises money in order to help people who are sick or very poor, or who have a disability.” Soliciting charitable donations for the education of mankind seems questionable to me.
How does Full Fact decide which facts need to be checked? And is education really all about facts?
Voting is usually emotional
Facts can be spun, and fake news is often more about spin than facts. In other words, the facts that you conceal are every bit as important as the facts that you reveal.
Voting behaviour is more about emotion than intellect. People go with their gut feelings and their passions. Successful politicians know this, and that’s why political presentation is so important. It’s why politicians employ speech writers and voice coaches.
Which is not to say that facts are not important. But they have to be presented in the right way for people to pay attention to them.
Take this meme, for example, which was doing the rounds on Facebook recently.
People were giving this meme a lot of love – especially well-educated, professional types. Which is quite revealing.
Because this meme tells us nothing. It shows a photograph of an iceberg next to a photo of a melting piece of floating ice. Are the photos connected in any way? Yes – but only in your mind!
The meme relates these photos to a 10-year challenge craze that recently went viral, and in doing so, it indirectly invites your subconscious to make certain connections. These connections are based on your long-standing beliefs.
It’s very clever! But is it factually incorrect? Is it fake news?
No – because it doesn’t make any factual claims.
You’d expect well-educated, professional people to question this kind of unsourced collage instead of blithely giving it likes and shares!
I think it shows that much of what we call education today is not so much about knowledge as what – and whom – to believe.
And when charities are set up with their main mission as “education”, we really need to question what kind of education they are giving us.
Main photo by Geralt