Lies are being told by all of the politicians running for office the world over. Big lies, small lies, lies of omission and lies of commission. Lies are everywhere. We all know this, it’s not for nothing that was talk about this being a ‘post-truth’ era. So how do you avoid being fooled?

let's avoid the lies and get #BeyondPolitics to the truth
A #BeyondPolitics protest banner outside UK government offices (photo: James Kemp)

Lies have Power

People have always know the lies have power, all the way back. It’s just got easier for the normal people to spot them. To quote Jonathan Swift, over 300 years ago:

the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no
farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

So there’s nothing new with lies being knowingly thrown around. Even with notable politicians repeating untruths that have been proven false where both the politician and the audience know them to be lies.

Why lies get repeated

Elections are matters of opinion, and emotion rules at least as much as logic, more so if results are examined.

There’s so much going on with party pledges on this that and the other that no one person can read everything, ask the questions they need to clarify the facts, and then weigh up the pros and cons before deciding who to vote for.

Most of us don’t even do that once, never mind in every election that comes along. The politicians know this. So they use emotional language to persuade us that they are on our side, and that they will deliver things in our best interest.

Repetition gets the message home, and we tend to think people only stick to their message when they believe in it. So repeating known lies builds an element of doubt in the inconvenient facts, and also the motives of the fact checkers. It creates a sympathetic link in our heads with the opinion being put forward by the liar.

Big Lies and Small Lies

That’s where lies come in. What’s important in deciding who to vote for is not spotting the lies, that’s pretty easy. It’s identifying the sort of lies, and what that means for how that party will behave if in government. You need to judge them by observed behaviour rather than what they say.

Types of lies

  • Creating ‘others’ i.e. singling out a group for being the cause of all the problems (NB only where the group isn’t actually just those provably responsible). E.g. Boris Johnson attacking EU migrants.
  • Personal smears – like the othering above, but directed at a single person to destroy their credibility. E.g. Diane Abbott has had a whole truckload if this directed at her.
  • Simplifications – losing the detail in an attempt to sway people in wanting to do something. E.g. Get Brexit Done. NHS Privatisation
  • Fabrications – pure fiction, making stuff up, of which there should be none in a political campaign. Sadly there are too many in this one, see the furore over the boy on the floor at Leeds General Hospital.

The most dangerous lies are the ones that create divisions and ‘others’. There’s a mob mentality formed, and human nature likes us to band together against ‘them‘. The most insidious are where the targets are unable to defend themself. We’ve seen a lot of these in the current campaign.

Don’t Get Fooled Again

Like the Who said, don’t get fooled by all the lies. While you’ll see them from all sides they aren’t all equal.

According to the Economist we’ve had way more lies this General Election than previously. Truth-has-been-the-first-casualty-of-britains-election

From my personal exposure here is my order of liars, from worst to tolerable

  1. Nigel Farage (and his shenanigans around where the Brexit Party are standing)
  2. Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party (being fair a lot of reasonable Tories have been left behind by the party)
  3. Lib Dems
  4. Labour (the intent seems genuine, but they tend to overcook things)

Spotting Fake News

Anyway. Make up your own mind. Don’t trust anonymous social media (which means anyone you don’t know, even friends of friends).

If something sounds interesting put it through your favourite search engine. Bots tend to AstroTurf the same words everywhere, also there are fact checking sites.

Help your friends understand how to spot fake news too. The more people understand the lies and call them out, without propagating them the better. It’s about time we returned to civil debate based on telling the truth as we understand it, rather than barefaced lies.