The word “truth” is being hijacked by fake news conspiracy theorists who claim their dark ideas are light

There have been too many victims of Covid-19. People for whom coronavirus was the primary cause of death. Many others whose death was accelerated or whose recovery from other diseases was cancelled through catching Covid.

Truth has been a victim too. Conspiracy theorists and populists have been promoting a distorted review of reality. Uncertainty, crisis and threat have always been fertile grounds for conspiracy theories. But has never been so important to get the truth right.

A “truthpaper” is currently been pushed through doors around the country. Truth? Not in my book.

The coronavirus epidemic has been a killer. Two and a half million people have died after being infected with Covid across the world. In the UK, 120,000 people.

There has been wide spectrum of debate on how we should have dealt with the pandemic. That debate is the legitimate way that science and the political process responds to any threat or crisis.

But there has been a smaller but not insignificant challenge from the conspiracy theorists.

For months “The Light” has been pushed through letterboxes in some areas of the country. Styling itself as “A Truthpaper,” it adopts an evangelical religious air. It’s professionally produced and it’s hard to fault the editing and design or paper quality. Independently funded, it boasts a distribution of 125,000.

But the quality of its editorial content, design and production cannot for moment disguise the danger of its content.

The front page headline of the current edition screams “Covid Shots Kill and Injure Hundreds”.

If we take this one article at face value, and I don’t, then hundreds have died after being vaccinated. But when the article was written in January up to 100 million people across the world had had their first vaccination. If vaccination people have been dying in any significant numbers after vaccination it would be on every frontpage of every newspaper in this country. SAGE would be less than sage about it.

Donald Trump didn’t start fake news by a long way. But more than anyone in recent years, he elevated into an art form. Fake news Trump screamed at the media outlets. That was nothing more than a smokescreen for the fake news he was putting out himself. He created alternative truths. Polarised realities. We saw one of the consequences of polarisation with the storming of the Capitol. With the depth of commitment from activists that many of will find frightening.

The human mind has an innate ability to link this bit of information with that bit of information, even if there is no scientific basis for that connection. That, along with an ingrained distrust for “the system” motor conspiracy theories. And conspiracy theories are the life and blood of The Light.

This fake newspaper continues with headlines such as “From Science to Dogma” and “The Covadian Totalitarian Cult” and “Murder of The Innocent”. And then it reveals its roots with attacks on GM crops, 5G, smart technologies and the BBC as the “official mouthpiece for fascist nutters”.

I am not arguing that fake newspapers like this should be banned. That would be illiberal. But I am concerned that they are dangerous. In my home county of Shropshire, they will not sway the majority opinion but they can contribute to the undermining confidence in the local, national and international efforts to bring Covid-19 under control.

We have space in our society for alternative opinions and for challenges to the establishment view. But the challenges need to be rational not untruths like those pedalled by The Truth.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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15 Comments

  • John Marriott 21st Feb '21 - 9:11am

    The trouble is, Andy, that it’s not the printed message that’s distorting reality; but rather the electronic stuff appearing on Facebook, Twitter and all the other online platforms. We even get it on LDV with contributors, who prefer to hide behind noms de plume and clever pseudonyms rather than reveal who they really are.

    The usual justification for some of the more bizarre beliefs is to start your argument with a phrase something on the lines of; “I’ve heard” or the ubiquitous “apparently”. Ignorance is sadly often the culprit, even limited reading ability. I seem to remember a crowd gathering outside the office of a consultant paediatrician, mistaking his specialism for the word ‘pedophile’!

  • The Trumpian comments coming from the likes of Macron and some German politicians re the AstraZeneca vaccine have not helped.

    There are reports in the Irish and German press of people refusing to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine as they think it is no good. More fool them.

  • We have space in our society for alternative opinions and for challenges to the establishment view. But the challenges need to be rationale not untruths like those pedalled by The Truth.

    Indeed. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Feb '21 - 2:20pm

    John Marriott. Agreed.

    20 years ago I was really enthusiastic about the internet and I thought it would be a force for good. I was very dumb – it’s been a top to bottom disaster. The pandemic has just shown us just how bad it is. No idea how to put the genie back in the bottle though.

    The internet was basically fine until big tech ruined it. But how we get them and the ‘post-journalists’ out is anyone’s guess. I’d take the old press barons over big tech any day.

    I genuinely struggle to see how we can get civility back.

  • Over the years, I have considered the merits and problems of platforms like facebook and twitter and each time I decided that on balance, I would rather do without them. That was my choice and I don’t regret it. During the intervening years, such platforms seem to have become the source of news for an increasing proportion of our population. I find that a matter of concern.
    In the meantime, surveys show that the BBC is rapidly becoming the least trusted of the national broadcasting services.
    I fear that the two trends are linked. Generally, social media platforms are driven by business models. Advertising is the basic function but the fanatical data collection lends itself to a much wider range of more worrying activities. Political thinking can be readily collected, amplified and reinforced. All “switched on” BBC celebrities are of course fully plugged in to the social media platforms that aid their success. Social media platforms are now the theatre in which social decisions are made. The cancel culture, statue removal, non-platforming and other woke extremes are totally dependent on social media for communications. It is almost impossible for people connected to the modern world to be free from the highly sophisticated influences of the large multinational elites.
    What proportion of us are truly free from these influences?

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Feb '21 - 8:15pm

    Peter – read this

    https://theintercept.com/2021/02/13/news-rage-economy-postjournalism-andrey-mir/

    It is about the US but the same will come to the UK. I just can’t believe those years ago that I never saw it coming.

    And now we’ve rung the authoritarian bell it’s only going to get far, far worse.

  • Alison Willott 22nd Feb '21 - 10:27am

    It isn’t just the internet that lies. A basic problem is that we don’t, as a society, take real action when politicians and governments lie. Boris’ bus continued to travel with its lie and wasn’t stopped. Brexiteers continued to say they we would get a trade deal easily with no barriers: we wouldn’t, we didn’t, we haven’t – but no punishment is meted out to the liars. Just two examples, but I am sure we can come up with many more. We have stopped having honest governments. Coupled with Trump’s wildly successful campaign to describe all news outlets as fake news, most people don’t believe governments any more. I don’t, for one. I listen to all ministers with deep scepticism and almost take it for granted these days that they aren’t telling the truth. We need to take legal action against those who deliberately lie; we need to punish them. Fine them. Make them lose their jobs. In the worst cases, imprison them. But we shouldn’t let them get away with it.

  • I don’t think I’ve actually seen any fake news or conspiracy theories, certainly not of of the 5G/Bill Gates variety anyway.

    Vaccine uptake is very high (exception in specific communities which is being addressed).

    Public compliance is generally very good despite attempts from some people to claim otherwise and people have accepted real sacrifices for the last year.

    So rather than being “dangerous” this fake news has arguably had a negligible impact on public behaviour. It is ignored by most people and drowned out by the media/governments fear based strategy.

    So is it time we asked is “fake news” fake news?

  • George Miles 22nd Feb '21 - 10:46am

    typo:
    [A “truthpaper” is currently been pushed]
    [A “truthpaper” is currently BEING
    please correct and then delete this comment

  • George Miles 22nd Feb '21 - 10:50am

    typo 2
    [With the depth of commitment from activists that many of will find frightening.]
    [With the depth of commitment from activists that many of US

    please correct and then delete this comment

  • George Miles 22nd Feb '21 - 10:54am

    I get lots of anti vaccine pseud scientific rubbish on my facebook, rather than spend time replying to every one, I find a rational comment from someone against them and give it the thumbs up, if people see these thumbns up mounting up then they will be more likely to ignore the post. Some of my facebook ‘friends’ are deep in it, its not them i’m trying to influence so much as all the undecided people who read their posts

  • Social media has a lot to answer for, as does mainstream media for the way they report these things. Critical thinking is pretty much dead – and that goes beyond Covid conspiracy theories and applies to the left as well as the right.

  • I am a somewhat militant “free speecher” as I believe that it leads ultimately to greater truth.

    I also get slammed on this website for being too much a follower of statistics. (I guess you can’t win!)

    And I have deliberately been going on anti-vax websites to challenge my “confirmation bias” that getting the vaccine is a good thing – including the video that was criticised by Panorama (- although I have to admit that I found it virtually unwatchable and have only managed the first 10 minutes).

    There are some issues but actually there is a massively high vaccine take-up rate that I am surprised about – so whatever else the “terrible internet” does not seem to have contributed to lower the vaccine take-up. And while there are misinformation sites – there are a lot of highly informative sites that it are easy to go to.

    But experts and doctors are always wrong – to a degree. The “experts” have sworn blind in the past that the world is flat, has the sun go round it, the universe was created some 8,000 years ago, that we all have the same time, that cholera was caused by bad air not by bad water etc. etc.

    There needs to be a highly vigorous debate and that is too important to be left to the experts. We have had a recent thread on Vitamin D and reading through the evidence I think that doctors and the NHS are being too cautious on this.

    But equally the Daily Mail does have a tendency to say that everything either causes or cures cancer.

    Come back in 200 years time and people will incredulous as to medical treatments – “they did what to you – and they ignored that!” Just as we are on medical treatment from 200 years ago.

    I don’t believe that critical thinking is dead. We do need though to have information and education on how to assess information. But think, assess information, debate – the internet (used well) is a wonderful resource to do just that as medical studies and trials are now available to all to assess,

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Feb '21 - 2:02pm

    If the government was more forthcoming about the numbers it might reduce the appetite for misinformation. l have heard nothing about test and trace for weeks. As case numbers fall it should be easier to discover where and how each infection occurs. Also, it should have been apparent from the start that a significant number of cases are asymptomatic like most viral infections.

  • Jethro Rowland 19th May '21 - 10:46pm

    A friend sent me a copy of this ridiculous publication the light. This friend is in his 60s not in a good state of health and he is refusing to get vaccinated because of what he read in The Light. So this guy could easily get infected with Covid19 and potentially die from the disease or get seriously Ill and end up with long covid. Sadly this friend is very susceptible to conspiracy theories, he doesn’t have a TV, he has never used the internet or been online because the conspiracy theorists have convinced him that mainstream media is propaganda. This guy and hundreds of people like him are extremely vulnerable to fake news and In the era of Covid19 belief in the kind of crap these people are peddling could cost lives. So is total free speech that could cost lives necessarily a good thing. I think not maybe governments need to legislate against dangerous fake news.

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