Can fake and true coexist? The Facebook paradox


Earlier this year, my Facebook news feed started regularly featuring warnings not to feed bread to ducks.

Whoops, I thought. I’ve been doing that all my life. Rather enjoyed it actually. Oh well, better stop.

Now the Queen’s personal swan guard has hit back at the campaign after emaciated swans started washing up on the banks of rivers up and down the country. Turns out, if people don’t feed river birds lots of them die. Who knew?

In many ways, the fate of the swans is a parallel to Brexit. And no, I’m not making a cheap analogy that our country is going the way of the swans.

The point is that, the RSPB were right. Feeding bread to the ducks was harming them. It’s not a balanced diet and it has side effects.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Without bread the swans die. Close up all the fast-food outlets and the poor kids go hungry.

Call it the law of unintended consequences. Call it irony. But as far as Facebook goes, these things are both simultaneously true and fake. Bread kills the ducks. No bread kills the ducks.

When it comes to arguing about Brexit on social media, facts stopped mattering a long time ago. Regular people, without specialist understanding of the nuances of global economics and international diplomacy were fed directly contradictory statements, and unsurprisingly didn’t know what to make of them.

Brexit will boost the economy while simultaneously crashing it. Immigration is crippling our country, but without immigration our country will be crippled. Remainers are out-of-touch elitists so can’t be trusted, and Brexiteers are out-of-touch establishment figures who can’t be trusted.

Is it any kind of surprise that everyone went: “well I don’t know, I’ll just choose the facts that suit how I feel and go with those”?

Two years on both sides are still intractable. Nobody on social media will budge an inch because they have ‘facts’ to back up their argument.

So how do you get out of this bad situation? Maybe it takes the RSPB and the architects of the no-bread campaign to say: “You know what, we got it wrong. We still think it’s bad to feed ducks too much bread so if you can mix in some grain as well that’s great. But if you want to feed them bread then go ahead and do it.”

Then possibly the pro-swan brigade might have a think and see what they could do to make it easier for members of the public in popular riverside slots to access grain and otherwise negate the impact of too much bread in the water.

The question is, will either side in a passionate debate ever be ready to admit they might have got it slightly wrong?

Sadly in the case of the pro-bread vs the anti-bread campaigns, the fates of the ducks, swans, moorhens, coots, and great-crested grebes all hang in the balance until they do.


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