It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on in politics, on both sides of the Pond. Having recently relocated to the UK after decades in the States however, I can confidently say that the UK has a long way to go before reaching the sorry depths of spin, denial and conspiracy theories one sees in the USA. The million dollar question though, is how far down this dark road the UK will venture. Fortunately, there’s a lot Brits can do to prevent that ugly scenario.
Be aware of biased journalism – While many people think that all journalism has some political bias, in the UK there aren’t quite entire mainstream stations blatantly peddling the beliefs of one party or another. Fox News in the USA for example, makes no bones about its fervent conservative slant while MSNBC anchors deliver their stories with a Democratic bent. Although some may criticize the BBC, not everything is reported with a spin. Victoria Derbyshire, for example, ran a segment on 10 April about abortion protests outside clinics. Four women from both sides of the issue spoke in turn, interrupted only once when a question wasn’t answered. A US-style partisan approach would have held one political party or another responsible for the protests or the abortions. A study in March 2017 of British newspaper readers, found that “Of the eight national newspapers we asked about, five were seen to be predominantly right-wing, whilst two were seen as predominantly left-wing. The Independent, although no longer a physical presence in Britain’s newsstands, was seen as a broadly centrist publication.” I’m not suggesting we ignore all political news in the media, but awareness of the spin is highly recommended, even if you agree with it.
Question facts and sources – Whether it’s on TV, in the papers or on social media, when someone throws a “fact” out, don’t immediately swallow it. Perhaps the biggest conspiracy theory in recent years was Trump’s “birther” conspiracy, when he claimed that then President Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to be President. Despite Hawaii (the 50th state and Obama’s birthplace) officially verifying his birth certificate, this belief is still widely held in some quarters. In February of this year, accusations that some Florida school shooting victims were “crisis actors” and never even attended the school, began circulating less than a week after the horrific event. Worryingly, although Russia denies it, Facebook has identified thousands of posts and paid advertisements placed by Russia-based operatives, and has recently removed 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook Pages, and 65 Instagram accounts run by a Russian government-connected troll farm. Not everything is as it seems.
Don’t look for a fight – Such is the entrenchment in the USA that upstanding Americans now find themselves backed into a corner, arguing against almost every value they uphold. Although they insist, for example, that Trump’s pussy-grabbing boasts or his serial adultery are “better than” so and so’s past actions, they are often embarrassed by their own words, which leads to defensiveness and anger, which in turn, so infuriates the other side that all discussions degenerate into slanging matches. Dr. Melanie Green, Associate Professor of Communications at New York’s University at Buffalo, has found in her studies that when people know there is going to be disagreement on a subject, they “tended to feel more threatened or anxious about the prospect of discussing the issue.” She suggests “…a willingness to approach different topics calmly– while truly listening to the other side – may help people find common ground or promote change.”
Follow the money – Sadly in the USA, where there is politics, there’s also conflict of interest if not outright bribery. Lobbyists representing whole industries are common, and they make large donations to politicians’ campaign coffers, which many suspect influence how these politicians vote. Although the UK Electoral Commission regulates campaign spending, a recent study by the London School of Economics suggests that many loopholes are being exploited and that current laws have not kept up with social media activities. Always be aware of who is lining whose pockets.
And finally, at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious:
Don’t make stuff up – No matter how strongly you feel about your politics, fabrication damages the credibility of you and your party.
Avoid the term “fake news” – If it ever had any meaning, it is now just code for “I don’t like this fact and I don’t want to hear it”.