TIM LOUGHTON: Beware of ‘alternative facts’ on social media

Tim Loughton
Tim Loughton

I have just returned from a breakfast hosted by Channel 4 in the Commons on the subject of ‘fake news’ as part of their ‘Fake News Week’, fronted by veteran newscaster Jon Snow.

It is an interesting downside of the phenomenon of global communications and 24-hour media that we need to be wary of how we verify the sources of our news and the veracity of the ‘facts’ they report.

Shoreham Post Office, in Brunswick Road, Shoreham. Picture: Google Street View

Shoreham Post Office, in Brunswick Road, Shoreham. Picture: Google Street View

Nowhere is our scrutiny more needed than on social media, which is the ‘Wild West’ as regards reporting of ‘alternative facts’, as has suddenly become the buzz phrase in Trump’s America.

I am sure we have nothing to worry about with our local Herald, but I will be doubly careful this week.

There was an interesting example in last week’s Letters pages of what I am sure was a misunderstanding rather than a deliberate promotion of ‘alternative facts’.

A Shoreham reader said that it was the privatisation of the Post Office and sell-off of hundreds of ‘extremely valuable post office buildings’ to profit shareholders that was behind the recent announcement to close the Crown Post Offices in Lancing and Shoreham.

Now, as readers know, I have been very vociferous in opposing these proposals but it is important that we challenge the Post Office on facts, not fantasy, and I have arranged for all our local councillors to be given a briefing by the Post Office later this month ahead of a proper public consultation.

The facts are that the Post Office is 100 per cent owned by the Government, that is by the people.

It was the Royal Mail that was part floated on the stockmarket for investors and staff, which is completely separate from the Post Office.

The Post Office buildings locally are not owned by the Post Office but leased, so there is no ‘kick-back’ for the Post Office or ultimately the taxpayer there.

And the reason that they are looking to relocate the Post Office service to an alternative retailer rather than close them down altogether is because the Government has put a stop on the Post Office closure programme after years of losing thousands of sub-Post Office branches, as we know all too well locally.

That does not take away from my view that these proposals are misguided, but facts matter.

By the time you read this I anticipate that the Bill to trigger Article 50 to begin the process of exiting the EU will have passed all its stages in the Commons (after many late-night sittings which is never ideal for assessing facts) and passed to the Lords for further scrutiny.

It was one of the shortest bills I have ever voted on in Parliament, just two clauses long, yet attracted hundreds of amendments – the intention of virtually all of which was to hold up the progress of the legislation and frustrate the will of the referendum result.

As such there was no need for me to support any of these amendments as there will be numerous other opportunities to hold the Government to account for the detail of how they are negotiating our withdrawal from the EU, which is what the people voted for.

• If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or email me at loughtont@parliament.uk

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