Friday, April 12, 2013

It’s true is it? It’s a fact is it? How do you know? Read it on the web, did you? Well, must be true then, eh? Whales can sing Dixie through their bottoms? Who’d have thought it? On the web was it? Funny what you find out.

I read somewhere recently that when the printing press was invented, those who called the shots were extremely worried that the end of the world was nigh. This was bad news. Their reasoning was that information, disinformation and outright rubbish could now be circulated far more easily and their authority would come under attack.

Well, they are right about the far wider circulation of information, disinformation and outright rubbish, but when and where their authority came under attack cannot simply be put down to the invention of the printing press and the good work done by Mr Gutenburg in Germany and Mr Caxton here in Britain (who, by the way, was not a printer by trade at all but an astute businessman formerly based in Flanders who had his finger in many pies and, broadly, invested in the future of the printing press. That Caxton is now widely credited with ‘inventing’ printing might well demonstrate that the fears of those who thought the invention could possibly lead to the public being misled by disinformation and outright untruths were not necessarily Establishment paranoia).

Those calling the shot were worried, of course, because the feudal way of doing things meant that they, a minority, garnered all the goodies and everyone else was merely required to ask what most recent shots had been called. The Church was a major part of the Establishment, as powerful as, and in some ways arguably even more powerful than, the Court. One reason why they were so much against the Bible being translated from Latin into vulgar tongues was because they were keen to preserve their role as the exclusive interpreter of ‘God’s word’. Making ‘God’s word’ more accessible to ordinary folk was, of course, exactly why the various translators set about their work.

In fact, as almost all sociology bores will confirm - at great length if you give them half a chance, so watch your step - was that the invention of printing was a Good Thing overall. For one thing it made literacy and education possible that were the undoubted prerequisite for  the growth of democracy (defined by many as exploitation of the people by the people). That it also made possible such literary gems as Mein Kampf and the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion is also true, but to mention them is simple adolescent mischief.

That was then and this is now. The world and its prejudices have lived with printing for the best part of 800 years, and it was about time for a change. And that change came along around 15 years ago with the development of the internet. In those heady pioneering days it was still referred to as the ‘information superhighway’, though anyone using that phrase today would be mocked so much he or she would dare not show their face in public for at least a year.

But heady days being heady days and all kinds of nerds and geeks getting overexcited at the prospect of ‘worldwide communication’ - why didn’t they make that claim for radio? - the internet was trailed for a few short years as the key to freedom: there would be no stopping democracy, it was predicted, as information and news would spread across the planet at the speed of light (or electricity, I can’t remember: aren’t they essentially both the same? Something like that) and there would be no stopping it. Tyrants everywhere, the message went out, your days are numbered!

Well, call me an old cynic (or even a handsome cynic, if you like) but it didn’t pan out that way. Repressive states weren’t born yesterday, and governments who are not as keen as some on their folk being able to access everything available on the net are more than able to block access whenever they choose. They have also quickly become adept at monitoring web traffic and utilise algorithms to spot keywords and phrases which might merit a site being scrutinised a more closely.

So if, for example, I were to write something like ‘that Al Qaeda, now there’s a man who knows how to put on a show. His last went like a bomb apparently, and he’s become something of an underground sensation’, the chances are that some bright herbert in GCHQ in Cheltenham will have a little red light blinking furiously on his desk and the message ‘potential terrorist alert, check out, check out!) flashing on his screen. CCHQ software will have picked up on ‘al qaeda’, ‘bomb’, ‘underground’ and ‘GCHQ’ all in the same sentence and decided to take a closer look (or not. I’m not that conceited, but I think you get my drift). And in the grand scheme of things, I’m rather glad they are on the ball. So much for the spread of information enabling democracy to spread.

But what the ‘information superhighway’ is also doing very successfully - apart from making rich pornographers even richer and helping crooks come up with ever more ways of parting fools and their money - is spreading disinformation and outright rubbish. So where before it cost me an arm and a leg to publish and have printed a book outlining my the ‘facts’ that house mice are, in fact, alien beings come to spy on us and prepare the ground for an invasion of super rodents, these days I can publicise that belief at a fraction of the cost merely by posting a website.

Furthermore, it won’t be long before someone else who has long suspected that that is exactly what mice are up to but who lacked the ‘proof’ for his suspicion comes across my website and tells himself - it is, sadly, usually ‘himself’ as most women are too busy buying shoes and chocolate to bother much with the net - ‘ah ha! I knew it! Finally the proof! I knew they were up so something and now someone has shown us exactly what’s going on!’ He might then even copy and paste the text and images on your website to a website he has created, so that now there is not just one website ‘proving’ the existence of evil, subversive alien mice but two! And if two more bods do the same, soon there will be four, then 16 and on it will go until every alien mice conspiracy theorist worldwide will point to the number of websites backing up his suspicion - all carrying the same ‘facts’, of course - and tell his friends: ‘Look, they can’t all be wrong, can they?’

The same thing could - and can - happen with books, of course, and still does, but given that the net demands less of us in the way of paying attention than your average book, and, furthermore, is accessible almost anywhere, it is proving more successful. But the moral is the same: whether it’s something someone has told you, something your read in a newspaper or book, or something you found on the net, use your judgment. If you have no way of knowing just how true it is and how reliable the sources are, withhold judgment. Complete rubbish can also travel at the speed of light.

. . .

All this occurred to me when I was chasing up info about the nation’s favourite paedophile Jimmy Savile and claims he was linked to a paedophile ring which also involved prominent politicians, civil servants, judges and the rest and that they had all closed ranks and were protecting one another (as you would, of course - if one goes, they will all go). I was particularly interested in claims now doing the rounds that Ted Heath as was, one of Britain’s least successful Prime Ministers, was also into little boys and associated with Savile. Most recent, although on radio in Bristol, one bright spark, a barrister called Michael Shrimpton, has claimed that Heath would have young lads delivered to his yacht, have his evil way with them, then have them murdered and thrown overboard. Outlandish claim? Of course, and pretty incredible (as in extremely difficult, if not impossible, to believe rather than in the old hippy ‘far out, man’ sense of ‘incredible’). But Mr Shrimpton is most certainly making that claim. Just google ‘ted heath michael shrimpton’ to find out.

Other prominent names, many mentioned in connection with a gay brothel in Elm House, Rocks Lane, Barnes, include Conservative MP and Thatcher confidant Peter Morrison (now dead), bloody awful pop star, self-styled Christian and ageing Peter Pan Cliff Richard (not yet dead) and former Tory minister and EC commissioner Leon Brittan (not yet dead). Now, I have no way of knowing whether what is claimed about those gentlemen is true, although there now seems little doubt the Morrison was a wrong ‘un. The point is that all three names, as well as several others, are prominently mentioned on any number of website, and anyone visiting such a site might well go away with the firm impression that with so many independent websites all saying the same thing, everything must be true beyond any doubt. But of course it isn’t.

A few months ago, the BBC got itself into a terrible mess by publicly announcing that one Lord McAlpine, a Conservative politician, had been named by one victim of paedophilia as his abuser. Twenty-four hours later came the pofaced retraction: Awfully sorry, chaps, we got that one rather wrong. It wasn’t Lord McAlpine at all, but his cousin. Yet the damage had been done, and to this day someone somewhere searching the net for references to Tory paedophiles will come across the reference to Lord McAlpine being an abuser and believe it to be fact. Dangerous or what?

What is equally worrying is that once you’ve looked up and read through several of these websites, all purporting to be chasing down ‘the truth’, it dawns on you that the widespread practice that all of them is simply to copy and paste what is in one website into your own. Thus the number of ‘sources’ for a ‘fact’ are doubled, quadrupled, multiplied eightfold, then sixteenfold, then on and on in a matter of weeks. And there are plenty of gullible people out there prepared to believe anything about anyone, and the nastier it is, the better. So much for research (and, I’ll add so-called ‘citizen journalism’).

A given ‘fact’ might well be true. There again it might be complete bollocks, but to the anti-paedophile zealot (which to my ears sounds just as phoney as an ‘anti-death zealot’ - is anyone, except paedophiles, actually in favour of paedophilia?) that is not the point: it has appeared on someone’s website as ‘fact’, this guy is on the side of the angels (‘he’s against fucking cunt paedophiles, innit, so he’s got to be right, innit?’) so it’s all done and dusted. The giveaway is that it is almost always word-for-word.

Try it yourself: google, say, “jimmy savile” “paedophile ring” “cabinet minister” and you’ll come across any number of blogs about the subject all cross-referencing to each other and many carrying word for word the same content. You’ll also find many pointing you to the blog published by Nutter-in-Chief David Icke, who, in my view, gives fruitcakes a bad name.

All this is, of course, a long way off discussing what went on at Elm House, various children’s homes in North Wales and the Jersey, Jimmy Savile, a long list of paedophiles and alleged paedophiles and the rest. And as I’ve got nothing new to add, I shan’t discuss it. I also suspect that, in view of some developments - coppers being taken off the case, files going missing, odd inquest verdicts and the like - there is a widespread cover-up, but I have no proof whatsoever. I should make that clear. The point of this entry is to repeat what is all-too-often forgotten: there’s a lot of crap out there on the net and be very careful what you decided to believe.

. . .

Here’s an example of how what is on the net can very often be top-dollar 24-carat bollocks: copy this (from the start of the double inverted commas to the end of the second set) “andrew marr” “tearound tessa”, then paste it into Google (other search engines are available ©BBC) and see what you come up with. You should come up with 3,630 results explaining that ‘Tearound Tessa’ was ‘jocular nickname’ Andrew Marr earned himself when he was working at the Economist ‘because of his enthusiasm for trips to the canteen on behalf of his colleagues.’

Websites giving that explanation include The Tatler (which writes of ‘his keenness to trot back and forth from the canteen’), Blurb Wire (‘Current news and events for high maintenance minds’ - their own rather self-regarding description, I’m so glad I don’t have a high maintenance mind), Topic Hawk and Scoop Web (ooh, ‘scoop’ eh, sounds good!)

Unfortunately, it’s complete crap. Marr never earned himself that nickname, never told anyone he did and, as far as I know, never used to ‘trot back and forth’ to the canteen to get cups of tea for his workmates. How do I know? I know because I made it up. I did so several years ago and added it - mischievously rather than maliciously - to Marr’s Wikipedia entry. And every other website which refers to that particular ‘fact’ merely cribbed it off Wikipedia - ALL of them.

The ‘fact’ that Marr was once nicknamed ‘Tearound Tessa’ will undoubtedly appear in years to come in many an authoritative biography of the man or at least his obit and appreciations by colleagues once he pops his clogs. But its bollocks. I made it

up. And while I’m in confessional mood, don’t ever believe the ‘fact’ that the great and good Simon Heffer ‘once had a brief flirtation with the hard left in his teenage years’. That’s what his Wikipedia entry proclaims as now do also any number of potted biographies of the man. Trouble is it’s not true. I made that one up, too. Ah, there’s the knock at the door. It’s the Wiki police. Farewell, my good readers, and if they allow me the use of a laptop and access to the net in chokey, I pledge to carry on writing this blog. If they don’t - love, peace and kisses to you all.

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