UK government plans to combat fake news have required re-evaluation in the face of challenges from all sectors of society.
Following concerns about the impact of fake news, Theresa May’s government formed, in late 2017, the Dedicated National Security Communications Unit or DNSCU. The organisation has a remit to: combat disinformation by state actors and others.
‘We initially believed that addressing fake news would be a straightforward task,’ the DNSCU chair, Verity Faithful, told reporters. ‘The obvious way to approach the problem seemed to be to encourage a greater degree of public discernment about information that was purporting to be factual – regardless of the source from which it came. We assumed that intelligent, critical analysis would allow people to protect themselves from misinformation and render ineffective any malicious fake news which they encountered.
‘We even reached the point of considering a national advertising campaign,’ Ms Faithful explained. ‘It was to be called the Believe Nothing Unless … campaign. The campaign was intending to adopt, as its primary principle, the assertion that:
‘Nothing should be considered as true unless there is clear, verifiable evidence in support of it from several reliable and independent sources.’
Ms Faithful went on to explain that this primary principle, whilst superficially appearing to be highly rational, drew immediate and passionate objections from many sectors of society.
‘The difficulty with the original primary principle from a Church perspective,’ explained a leading archbishop, ‘is that the Church obviously understands the truth about God and knows exactly how the Almighty wants everybody to think and behave. Unfortunately there’s no objective evidence for our knowledge that would have satisfied the initial DNSCU criteria. The advertising campaign, as it stood, would have, in effect, challenged the very existence of the Church.’
Leaders of all other faiths and spiritual ideologies also raised similar objections.
Such concerns lead the DNSCU to propose an extension to its primary principle. The modified principle now stated:
Nothing should be considered as true unless there is clear verifiable evidence in support of it from several reliable and independent sources or it has been asserted by a spiritual or religious leader.
Almost immediately, however, there were further objections from Westminster. Politicians pointed out that, whilst all the statements they made were totally honest, and the veracity of party manifestos and pledges should never be doubted, it was also often impossible to find any independent evidence at all to verify that what they said was true. They feared that DNSCU primary principle might, therefore, undermine public faith in politicians, and, as one unnamed Westminster source phrased it, ‘make the great unwashed far more difficult to manage.’
Similar complaints followed from the advertising industry and the established media.
‘To take into account the views of all stake holders,’ Verity Faithful explained, ‘we further expanded our primary principle to read:
Nothing should be considered as true unless there is clear verifiable evidence in support of it from several reliable and independent sources or it has been asserted by a spiritual or religious leader, a politician, the advertising industry or the established media.’
‘This initially appeared to satisfy everyone,’ added Ms Faithful. ‘It permitted leading Conservatives to continue with their assertion that Brexit had been a good idea, Momentum to carry on with its promotion of Jeremy Corbyn as the second coming of Christ, and the Daily Mail to remain in circulation.
‘Unfortunately, the Believe Nothing Unless … strategy had ultimately to be abandoned after it experienced major challenges from multiple sectors of the general public. Concern was expressed that critical analysis of many everyday assertions could have disastrous social consequences.’
‘I’ve told my partner that I’m not having an affair,’ said a typical objector. ‘The government has no right to encourage my partner to double check whether I’m lying.’
Parents groups also accused the DNSCU of trying to destroy Christmas for millions of innocent children by, in effect, inciting young people to evaluate the objective evidence for the existence of Santa Claus.
‘The DNSCU came to realise,’ concluded its chair, ‘that there are different kinds of truth. At one end of the spectrum lies the rigour of the scientific method in which propositions are repeatedly tested. Even if such propositions are not disproved, no attempt is made to assert them to be true facts – those propositions are simply treated as the best current hypotheses. At the other end of the spectrum resides full blown Trumpism in which truth is whatever you feel you would like it to be on the day, with no reference at all to any other criteria.’
For the above reasons, the DNSCU has currently shelved plans to encourage intelligent, well informed and thoughtful discernment of facts by the general public. Instead, they have formed a subgroup, nicknamed the Pontius Pilate Working Party, to explore the question famously raises by the first century, Roman governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, when he asked: ‘What is truth?’
The working party is expected to report by mid-2018, and its findings may lead to the formation of a new Ministry of Truth. It is hoped that the Ministry can allow those with wealth and power to assist the ill-informed masses through the demanding and complex maze of logical reasoning by defining for them the official, approved version of reality.