Those with vast followings

With influence comes responsibility. If you suddenly find yourself with a vast following, you have a responsibility to verify, as far as possible, the information that you pass on to others. Last year, we looked on as Muslim politicians and community leaders shared disturbing images from unrelated events in response to reports of atrocities in Myanmar. Earlier this year, impassioned activists shared photos from Gaza in 2014, claiming that they captured the day’s events in Syria. Daily, armed with a reverse image search, we detect similar infractions, as images are repurposed from one event to illustrate events elsewhere.

Claims made in the spoken or written word are not so easily verified, but it is nevertheless possible to pull together fragments which determine what is not true, even if it is rather harder to prove what is. Spurious claims can be debunked fairly easily with persistent research and an obsessive attention to detail, if you are prepared to make the effort. To say that you know definitively what happened is often beyond our reach, but we can often determine what did not happen simply by attempting to corroborate claimed facts.

These days, I repeatedly return to the same story, moved by the persistent claims of our activists to offer a counter-narrative based on my own research. But in reality I know that to respond is futile, for I am a nobody, my meanderings unread, while those promulgating these modern legends have thousands of followers. Take this tweet, opening a series of comments on the case, shared by our honourable community organiser with her nearly 22,000 followers:

This single tweet has been shared 1,300 times and liked by 1,400 people; the tweets in the thread that followed have been shared hundreds of times each. When a respected teacher, with 17,400 followers of his own, subsequently shared this tweet with their own comments, their tweet was liked a further hundred times, and on it goes, whenever the tweet is shared and reshared.

I do not claim for a moment to know the truth, or what really happened in this case. But I do believe that many of the claims made by our activists are spurious at best and outright lies at worst. For example, activists keep claiming that the second plaintiff is a white supremicist. However, from my research, I am led to believe that she is in fact a of mixed French and West African heritage. And while campaigners claim that her case is dubious, the investigating judges wrote in their response to Dr Ramadan’s petition for release in July, that on investigation the testimony of the second plaintiff proved to be exact.

I need not rehearse the points I have already made in numerous previous posts. It is sufficient to state that I believe that Dr Ramadan’s treatment by the French criminal justice system is by no means unique, and that it is purely our ignorance of their over-use of pre-trial detention that leads us to the conclusion articulated so vociferously by campaigners.

Well intentioned as our people of influence may be in using their privileged position to reach out to their thousands of followers, they risk simply promulgating pious propaganda on behalf of those with unclear agendas of their own. What good can possibly be served by constantly denigrating alleged victims of assault? Or by sharing gruesome photographs of burn victims from an oil tanker disaster in order to illustrate alleged atrocities on another continent?

If you find yourself with a vast following of your own, do us all a favour, and try to verify the information you receive before you pass it on to others. That is the responsibility which comes with influence, and is the least you can do.

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