Sunday May 19th
Dr Mike Flood has been researching into ‘fake news’ and disinformation and has set up the Fighting Fake website to help raise public awareness of the threat.
In ‘post-truth’ Britain facts and opinions have become interchangeable, and social media and fake websites are used to tout false information, hate speech and conspiracy theories, including material churned out on an industrial scale by hostile foreign powers. This has consequences: it has contributed to a polarisation of opinion, the rise of the Alt Right, and a haemorrhaging of trust in traditional sources of information and authority.
Adam Mynott writes about Mike’s talk:
“Anyone who might have glanced at Mike Flood’s website Fighting Fake (www.criticalinformation.org.uk) before coming to hear him address the issue of ‘fake news’ would have known they were in for a fascinating evening, if not a rather worrying one. Mike, who has a background in chemistry, social sciences and education, has spent the last two years probing the rise of ‘fake news’ and assessing its threats. They are legion.
His presentation ranged across an impressive body of research, including definitions of falsehoods: misinformation (mistakes), disinformation (deliberate mistakes), and malinformation (partial truths intended to cause harm); the internet and social media’s role in the dramatic rise of fake news; what – if anything – we can do to protect ourselves; and perhaps inevitably Donald Trump, who is averaging, Mike said, 17 falsehoods every day of his presidency.
Mike opened his talk saying he wanted the evening to be a dialogue – ‘interruptions and disagreement are welcome’. He was a good as his word and members of the 30 strong audience chipped in, with questions and comments. We heard stout defence of the internet ‘never have we had so much access to information’, considerable concern was expressed about how fake news was going to get worse, and the suggestion that misinformation is nothing new, religion has been at it for thousands of years.
Mike said he was pessimistic about the trajectory of fake news – it is proliferating. We are all victims and, largely through social media, all perpetrators as well. He said he welcomed the growth in some news media of the ‘fact-checking’ business, and said that in the ocean of falsehoods and half-truths there are some islands of hope, but not many.
It was a compelling listen, heavy on fascinating detail and long on insight and analysis. Mike Flood held his audience’s close attention until long after the ergonomoically-challenged seats had rendered lower limbs numb; discussion continued in The Hop Blossom afterwards. “
Mike is chair of Milton Keynes Humanists. He has worked in the non-profit sector for most of his professional career, in adult education, environmental policy and international development.