SLR Diary: How confirmation bias fuels fake news – two disparate examples 

Drawing insightful similarities between two seemingly unconnected “news events,’ is only possible because of the utility of social media and easily-spread fake news. Here Simon Lincoln Reader compares the dishonesty and opportunism of a British anti-Brexiteer politician with ever-ready virtue signallers in South Africa who cry racism at the slightest opportunity, the consideration of alternative explanations never being an option. Both entities – the Brit’s false tweet and the angrily posted video of Springbok rugby wing Makazole Mapimpi being seemingly excluded from a post-match, all-white substitutes ‘huddle,’ went viral. Neither are true, nor did those eagerly jumping on the bandwagons bother to question the facts. Mapimpi posted a rebuttal video explaining exactly what happened, talking of the tight-knit ‘bomb-squad’ (squad vernacular for replacements) and a special camaraderie reserved exclusively for them. Race was never an issue. The substitute’s huddle happened to be all-white on the night. Makes you wonder how different these fake news agents-provocateur are from the kind that strap real bombs on and walk into crowds. They share the same blind, manic conviction – except this lot would never have the guts to sacrifice anything, let alone themselves. – Chris Bateman

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

In a moment two unrelated, completely different events, occurring thousands of miles away from each other on separate days become almost identical. One is a diplomatic reception that takes place in London; the other is a national team’s fleeting post match celebrations on a field in Japan. In that increasingly distant and unfamiliar world of certainty and reason, cold arithmetic could be swiftly applied to distinguish one from the other, but here we are, not for the first time, where every story somehow becomes the same story.

**

The first event is the annual celebration of reunification held at The German Embassy in Belgravia. The guest of honour is The Chancellor of the Dutchy Lancaster, or Britain’s de-facto deputy Prime Minister, Michael Gove. He gets up to speak.

Now, fast forward to the first coverage of his address. The person reporting is a Labour MP called Ben Bradshaw who was present. “Shameless”, he squeals on Twitter. “Totally ill-judged”. >160 characters is enough for conclusions to be drawn: Michael Gove, an avowed leave campaigner, is actually a Nazi, inappropriately Heil-Hitlering his way through words. According to Ben, Michael had compared the fall of the Berlin Wall, i.e the pursuit of freedom, to Britain’s decision to depart the EU, and was mercilessly heckled for it, with one audience member – Ben claims – shouting “nonsense”.

**

The second event is occasioned shortly after The Springboks victory against Italy. A group of substitutes huddle together. The footage captures the back of the black South African wing, Makazole Mapimpi, who stares on momentarily at the huddle, before turning away. Immediately the conclusion is projected that Mapimpi was excluded because he is black. Twitter erupts with fury.

This is wild, but benefit could be temporarily afforded to the furious in the form of context: the South African lock Eben Etzebeth is the victim of a SAHRC/Sunday Times/News24 spunk bubble, led by a legal inchoate called “Buang Jones” – who has already declared that the Commission will be seeking “monetary compensation”.

But the wild fury endured to the point where Mapimpi himself had to be distracted into an unnecessary explanation. Collectively these substitutes, he said, are something akin a team within a team, and celebrate accordingly (incidentally, this is exactly what the All Blacks do).

**

On Friday last week, one day post the reception, an actual recording of Michael Gove’s address at The German Embassy emerged. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the recording revealed he had been neither cruel nor inappropriate: on the contrary, the speech was courteous and warm.

Ben Bradshaw and some irrelevant but aligned interest parties claimed that Michael was heckled. This was a lie. But someone – one person – did shout “nonsense”. Who was this person? Well, it was Ben himself, something he chose to omit from his initial reporting.

On Sunday Mapimpi’s broadcasted explanation did not soothe the confected racial anxiety. “His hands were shaking”, one defiant skeptic suggested. “He was definitely forced into that.” Of course he was. Because in the video you can clearly see the figure of Eugene Terre’Blanche standing in the hotel room doorway, holstering a Portuguese Luger as he shoves a bunch of coins into the hands of what appears to an Engen petrol attendant and barks “gaan kry my fokken firewood en coke nou”.

**

Last week Elon Musk again affirmed his fears of artificial intelligence by suggesting that in the future technology will be used to manipulate social media – i.e people will be framed into saying, doing things they actually didn’t. But clearly there are some among us unprepared to wait.

Both events are today overshadowed by their respective misrepresentations, but they are also last week’s news, soon to be usurped by more ambitious groups and schemes loitering on the fringes of possibly climate change or gender discussions.

Both events share the same objectives (short term gratification, the thrill of potentially humiliating those you consider opponents) and arguably, the same foundations too. But what makes them so similar here is the cowardice that protects both outcomes. Ben’s party is led by a famous coward; the ANC/EFF race-axis wouldn’t dare condemn liars lest it risk association with “whiteness” (association, that is, outside of predatory/crony rent-seeking).

Those who talk of the alarming frequency and nature of these events are accused of boring repetition. But ignoring them will simply embolden the likes of Buang Jones to amplify their self-promotion at increasingly greater cost. At present we cannot identify how we resolve this problem. Talking is all we have.

  • Simon Lincoln Reader lives and works in London.