September meeting: Is Fake Information Destroying Democracy?

When: Thursday 3rd September 2020, 7.30pm
Where: Probably online via zoom – more details nearer the time!

In today’s ‘post-truth’ world the line between fact and opinion has become blurred — anybody can post virtually anything online, and with very few constraints. Indeed, social media and fake websites have become vehicles for touting all manner of false information, hate speech and conspiracy theories, and lately, highly convincing ‘deep-fake’ videos. And this has consequences: it confuses and misleads people, damages reputations and businesses, and can cost lives. It also polarises and divides communities and undermines public trust, the ‘glue’ that holds society together. What’s more, conspiracy theorists are deliberately undermining trust in science and the medical profession, which hampers society’s ability to tackle serious global problems, not least the spread of infectious disease and climate breakdown. 

These days fake stories, reviews and accounts are everywhere — cybercrime now accounts for more than 50% of reported crime in the UK… And we can expect things to get worse with the development of the Internet of Things / Bodies, the growing penetration of ‘smart’ devices into our lives, and advances in machine learning / artificial intelligence. Faking it is cheap, easy to do and highly effective, and it can be difficult to trace let alone counter. Hardly surprising then that we are seeing increased meddling in domestic affairs by hostile foreign governments keen to undermine and damage liberal democracy. 

Mike Flood will be joining us in September to help explain what has changed to make lies and deception such difficult issues for open societies to handle and what can and is being done by international agencies, governments, the media, business, NGOs and individuals to tackle different aspects of the problem. The challenge we face today is to find ways of neutralising the threat and rebuilding trust / social capital without compromising the digital economy or our privacy, security and wellbeing — or seeing our country morph into a police state. Given what’s at stake bad information is not something we can afford to ignore.

Mike Flood:
I set up Fighting Fake (in early 2017) shortly after ‘fake news’ raised its ugly head. The intention is not to try to compete with the cohorts of people and organisations now working to tackle mis/disinformation and conspiracy theories, rather to help raise public awareness of the threat and publicise, explain and contextualise what’s going on. I have a background in science and have worked in the education and NGO sectors throughout my professional career. This includes working as an environmental consultant and running a small international development charity for many years. Today I manage the Fighting Fake website and Facebook page. I’ve been a member of Humanists UK for many years and Chair Milton Keynes Humanists