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Fake News: The Facts

Intelligence Squared brought together a star panel to debate the implications of the post-truth world.

There are lies, damn lies, and then there’s fake news. Manipulating the facts for political gain is as old as politics itself, but due to the rise of social media and search engine algorithms false stories can now spread like wildfire. In the run-up to the US presidential election, more people on Facebook engaged with fake news than they did with fact-checked media outlets. And according to a study by Stanford University, fabricated news items favouring Donald Trump were shared 30 million times during the campaign. In the recent French elections, a quarter of the political stories shared on Twitter were based on deliberate misinformation. Fake news was even broadcast live on television during the second-round debate, when Marine Le Pen alluded to a false online story that her rival Emmanuel Macron had an offshore bank account in the Bahamas.

Welcome to the world of ‘alternative facts’, where conspiracy theories, false claims and dodgy statistics proliferate. This phenomenon doesn’t just undermine the work of the mainstream media: it may have devastating consequences for democracy itself. Our system depends on citizens making electoral decisions based on facts. What happens when people don’t know what to believe? Fake news – often linked to Russian interests – has become an increasingly effective instrument of propaganda to create chaos and weaken the public’s trust in democratic institutions.

Can anything be done to combat the new post-truth politics? Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are hosting, propagating and monetising ‘clickbait’ stories. Will they eventually come to acknowledge that they are no longer neutral platforms directing traffic to news sites and admit that they are media organisations with all the responsibilities that implies?



Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster

Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View, as well as two podcasts, Politics Weekly America for the Guardian and Unholy, alongside the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi. He is a past winner of an Orwell Prize for journalism. He is the author of twelve books, the latest being The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.

James Delingpole

Journalist and author

Journalist and author who has a regular column in The Spectator and has also written extensively for the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun. He is executive editor for the London branch of Breitbart News. His books include How To Be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History and Watermelons: How Environmentalists are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing your Children’s Future.

Armando Iannucci

Celebrated comedy writer and producer

One of Britain’s most celebrated comedy writers, directors and producers. He is the creator of Veep, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Saturday Night Armistice and The Thick of It. He has directed films including The Death of Stalin and most recently The Personal History of David Copperfield. He is also the author of Hear Me Out: All My Music.

Sarah Sands

Screenwriter, journalist and broadcaster

Editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and former editor of the Evening Standard from 2012 to 2017. She was also previously Deputy Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and consultant editor on the Daily Mail.

Craig Silverman

Media editor of BuzzFeed News

Media editor of BuzzFeed News, and founding editor of BuzzFeed Canada. He leads BuzzFeed’s analysis into the phenomenon of fake news and is one of the world’s foremost experts on its emergence. He is the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He trains journalists all over the world in digital verification and debunking.

Jimmy Wales

Founder of Wikipedia

Founder of Wikipedia, the online non-profit encyclopaedia. In April 2017, he launched WikiTribune, a news website involving professional journalists working alongside volunteers to curate fact checked and reliable articles. In 2006 he was named in Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ for his role in creating Wikipedia.

Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia Law School

Professor at Columbia Law School, known for his influential work on ‘net neutrality’ theory and his role as an adviser to President Obama. In 2013 he was named one of America’s 100 Most Influential Lawyers. His books include The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires and The Attention Merchants: How Our Time and Attention are Gathered and Sold. He has testified before the US Senate that ‘Google is manipulating its search in an anti-competitive way’.