Thomas Jefferson once observed that “information is the currency of democracy.” If this is right, what happens when that currency is corrupted by bad information — alternative facts, fake news, conspiracy theories and pseudo-science? This is the question that Mike Flood will pose in his talk: he will argue that these imposters confuse and mislead the public; they harm people and destroy reputations, sometimes lives; and they can incite suspicion, fear and anger, which undermines social cohesion, democracy and the rule of law. When a society cannot tell fact from fantasy, and politicians and mainstream institutions are no longer trusted, there is a serious risk of descent into chaos.
Today’s post truth world seems to be accelerating down this path — facts and opinions have become interchangeable, evidence and reasoned analysis are routinely dismissed, and experts are reviled and ridiculed; and society has become more intolerant, fractious and polarised, with racialism and hate crime on the rise. We have also seen foreign interference in domestic affairs, and a haemorrhaging of trust in traditional sources of information and authority.
Mike will explore the possible contribution that social media may be playing in this collapse — nearly 4 billion people today have access to the Internet, and three quarters of them are on social media; he will also review the different approaches that are being pursued to neutralise or eliminate the threat and speculate on their likely success.
Mike Flood has many years’ experience in public education. He has spent much of the last year researching into fake news and misinformation and launched Critical Information (in Jan 2017) not only to help foster better public understanding of the scale and nature of the threat, but also to promote media awareness. The intention is not to compete with organisations and statutory bodies working to tackle the problem rather to complement their efforts by helping to explain and publicise their work. Fake news is such a complex and fast-moving field that it is difficult for most people to keep up with developments.
Mike has worked with and for non-governmental organisations for most of his professional life and is well-embedded in civil society; and it is here that he is targeting his efforts, along with schools and colleges. Mike is chair of Milton Keynes Humanists. He has recently stepped down from running a small development charity, Powerful Information, where he oversaw grassroots educational projects in Eastern Europe and West Africa. Before that he was a lecturer / tutor with the Open University. He also worked for Friends of the Earth in the early days of the environmental movement. Mike’s formal qualifications are in chemistry but after graduating he converted to sociology / science policy. He has written a number of publications on environmental and policy issues as well as educational materials for NGOs and adult learners.