The ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ Probably Doesn’t Exist. What Does That Mean For Free Speech?

An intellectual problem for those who defend freedom of expression

Amid all the concern about ‘Fake News’ and the increasing polarisation in politics, there is a psychological insight that I have seen explained and shared in many forms: when presented with a fact that contradicts a strongly held belief, people often reject the fact and double-down in their belief.

This is the Backfire Effect, a phrase coined by the American academics Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. Here’s part of the abstract to their 2006 paper ‘When Corrections Fail‘:

Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

Continue reading “The ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ Probably Doesn’t Exist. What Does That Mean For Free Speech?”

The Thirteenth Doctor

The Doctor always subverts our assumptions. Now she will do this in new ways.

Jodie Whittaker has been cast as the next star of Doctor Who—the first woman to play the rôle. There has been much discussion about the significance of this: Of the slow but noticeable trend towards more female characters leading major science fiction and fantasy stories; and about the backlash from those men who oppose this trend in general, and the casting of a female Doctor in particular. Continue reading “The Thirteenth Doctor”

Google Search Links To This Blog Suppressed by Right To Be Forgotten Laws

The suppressed post concerns Inigo Wilson’s Lefty Lexicon, which resulted in his being suspended from his post at Orange.

Well, this is interesting.

Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, Google can no longer show one or more pages from your site in Google Search results. This only affects responses to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers that might appear on your pages. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.

These pages haven’t been blocked entirely from our search results. They’ve only been blocked on certain searches for names on European versions of Google Search. These pages will continue to appear for other searches. We aren’t disclosing which queries have been affected.

This is the first time this has happened to me. Continue reading “Google Search Links To This Blog Suppressed by Right To Be Forgotten Laws”

The Writer in the World

In March, I was honoured and delighted to be asked to give the keynote speech at the University of Roehampton’s Creative Writing Soiree, an annual evening of fiction, memoir and poetry readings done by the English and Creative Writing students. The suggested title of my talk was ‘The Writer in the World’ which gave me the chance to speak about creativity, literature and the work of English PEN in broader and grander terms than the speeches I am usually asked to give.

I confess to being quite pleased with the end result. Not, I must stress, in the delivery, which comes across as extemporised rather than pre-planned. But rather, the broad idea of what it means to be a ‘writer in the world’ and the pragmatic suggestions for how one might go about living as such a writer.

The speech included a potted history of English PEN, some thoughts on the moral obligations of free speech, my earliest memories of learning to read, and the grind and grit required to be ‘creative’. Its a good statement of what I believe. Continue reading “The Writer in the World”

Five Quick Thoughts On The General Election Result

The waning influence of the newspapers has been exposed for all to see

Here are five thoughts I had while watching the election results last night and this morning.

1. The Conservative Party’s coronation of Theresa May as their leader last summer looks, with hindsight, to have been a mistake. Mrs May only had to win over her fellow MPs and not party members. She did not have to do any debates or unpredictable public appearances. Had she done so, her weakness in this area may have been exposed. Or, if you prefer, her experience of a months long leadership campaign against Andrea Leadsome might have made her a more confident campaigner in 2017.

    Continue reading “Five Quick Thoughts On The General Election Result”

Theresa May: Undermining British Values and Doing Nothing To Keep Us Safe

Rewriting our human rights laws will not keep us safe but will give the Prime Minister more power

To all those who Tweeted messages of love after the Manchester bomb.

To all those who posted Facebook messages of defiance after the London Bridge attack.

To all those who shared pictures of the Jewish woman praying with the Muslim man, and to those who clicked ‘like’ on that video of the policeman dancing.

To those who spread about the Keep Calm and Carry On posters, and reminded everyone about London’s ‘Blitz Spirit’. To those who Tweeted banter and funny hashtags about the things that make Londoners really afraid.

To those who offers a cup of tea or a bed for the night to anyone stranded in Southwark. To those who offered a lif home to the kids stuck in central Manchester. And to all those who shared these stories and these memes, whose heart was warmed by the idea that we have ‘more that unites us than that which divides us‘. To those who said, over and over, that we would not let a few murdering idiots affect our liberal values or our democratic way of life.

To all these people I ask: how do you feel about Theresa May’s pathetic, ahistorical and opportunistic statement that she will weaken our human rights laws? Continue reading “Theresa May: Undermining British Values and Doing Nothing To Keep Us Safe”

Framing

Even the typeface used in presenting a news story can have implications.

A simple twitter bot made by Russel Neiss does one thing: convert each of President Donald Trump’s tweets into the format of an official presidential statement. Here’s one where which confirms that his Executive Orders are indeed intended to be a ‘Travel Ban’ (which is odd because his own Justice Department are currently embroiled in a court case arguing that they are not).

This speaks to last week’s post about content shorn of attribution. How information is presented is crucial to how the message is interpreted. And tweaking the way in which something is presented might actually reveal an hypocrisy or two. Continue reading “Framing”

Blind Trials For Politicians and Journalists?

Keeping politicians in the dark may be enlightening for the rest of us. Presenting quotes shorn of attribution is a far superior method for catching out a politician.

Tee hee: Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was caught out by Krishnan Guru-Murthy last week. The politician assumed that the journalist had read out a Jeremy Corbyn quote, and so dutifully proceeded to attack the words spoken. But Guru-Murthy then revealed that the quote was actually something that Boris Johnson, a Conservative colleague of Mr Fallon, had written in 2005.

There has been much anger expressed by the Corbyn-supporting left this week, after the Labour leader made a gaffe in a BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour interview. He could not remember the financial figures attached to a childcare policy. Many people (including myself) felt that Mr Corbyn was treated unfairly in subsequent media pile-on: its not as if he and his policy team have failed to publish any figures (which would be genuinely shocking) or that the figures they published did not add up. Rather, he simply did not remember the precise figure that the party had published. This kind of ‘gotcha’ journalism says nothing of interest about the man, the party or the policy. There, but for the grace of God, walk you and I. Continue reading “Blind Trials For Politicians and Journalists?”

The Battle For Number 10: A Few Angry Thoughts

The big political question is now What Kind of Brexit? Mrs May does not appear to have an answer to that question, so she was very lucky that Mr Paxman did not ask it.

It has been a long weekend of second halves for me. I only saw the second half of the FA Cup Final on Saturday and the second half of the Huddersfield v Reading playoff this afternoon. And tonight I only watched the second half of the Sky News programme May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10. Unlike the football matches, this piece of general election programming made me rather angry for a number reasons. Let me count the ways.

  1. First of all, it was in no way May vs Corbyn. They did not ‘square off’ in any sense. There was no ‘battle’ or any exchange of words between them. The programme was a misnomer.
  2. And that misnomer provided cover for Mrs May’s political cowardice. That neither Mrs May nor Mr Corbyn have taken part in the party leaders’ debate is, as broadcaster Robert Peston described it, pathetic. Politicians seeking to lead us should put themselves into challenging, unscripted situations with their opponents.
  3. My annoyance was not only semantic. The substance of the discussion was anger-inducing too. Because, while it was slightly amusing to watch Mr Paxman try to skewer Mrs May by asking her the same question over and over again, it was not at all enlightening.

Continue reading “The Battle For Number 10: A Few Angry Thoughts”

#FreeRaif: Ensaf Haidar visits London

Today I was honoured to meet Ensaf Haidar – author, activist and wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

Raif Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and charged with ‘setting up a liberal website’. He was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment. His case is one of the most egregious human rights abuses in the world right now… and yet the British Government maintains cordial relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabi. Continue reading “#FreeRaif: Ensaf Haidar visits London”