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Youth to be offered lessons on detecting fake news

Google’s Internet Citizens initiative is to be welcomed, and one element that caught New Statesman Tech’s collective eye was the idea of giving lessons in spotting fake news stories to young people.

Actually we’re getting a little tired of the phrase “fake news” when someone just means “lie”. It’s enabled the president of the United States and his followers to adopt it when they just mean news they don’t like (the idea that fewer people attended Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s isn’t fake; given that Obama and nobody else was or can ever be the first non-white US president it’s not even a surprise or, in and of itself, a comment against Trump).

A lot of fakery gets repeated as genuine, however, and equipping young people to spot it is a good idea. Unfortunately the timing is somewhat unfortunate because, in case anyone’s been living under a rock, there has been a general election called.

Are election promises fake news?

Nobody should doubt that there are genuine examples of fake news out there. Barack Obama was not born in the USA, a number of the more anti-Obama sites screamed a few years ago. Tilda Swinton is going to be the next Doctor Who, another says (granted we have no proof of that yet, but if she’s going to swap a Hollywood location and fee for the BBC in Cardiff we’d be very surprised). £350,000,000 per week will go to the NHS after Brexit.

Except the last one might just happen – there really is no evidence yet, just balance of probabilities. And there are reports in some of the books on Brexit to the effect that, if someone else had become prime minister, that sum would indeed have been a priority. It may not happen but it’s a stretch to call it out as fake.

Likewise other unfulfilled election promises of the past. The Liberal Democrats promised not to put tuition fees up and then did so; was this an actual lie or a promise that proved unfulfillable when confronted with the available money in front of them in 2010?

Over the next few weeks there will be a lot of promises. There will be a lot of forecasts and a lot of undertakings. Depending on the result that will be clear on 9th June, some of them may prove unattainable. Where the dividing line between a stated aim, a promise and actual fake news is will be difficult to judge.

Maybe we should go on one of Google’s courses.