Missing: Informed Opinions in the Age of Social Media and Brexit

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

Fake News seems to be the buzzword of the day, and as much as I may disagree with President Trump, his views and policies, the issue of false information is an important issue in society today — of course much of the current misinformation is actually spread by individuals such as the US president himself.

As a child I was always told not to believe everything you read, especially the things you see on the internet. At university you’re taught to only use information from sources that are believed to be reliable, so why then is it so easy to find fake information and misleading claims on the internet, in the public sphere, and in political campaigns?

Who Is in Charge Here?

One of the biggest issues with the spread of misinformation or ‘fake news’ is the lack of regulation when it comes to social media posts and fact checking. Social media platforms such as Facebook fail to take real responsibility for fake news, leaving the online world open to mass speculation and uncontrollable sensationalism. If you’re writing for a reputable magazine or newspaper, statements and facts must be checked. If you’re sat at home on your sofa, or even behind your desk in the Oval Office, ready to send out a tweet, there is nothing stopping you. Of course, social media platforms are, in many ways, designed to facilitate the spread of personal messages and opinions, and allow for the principle of free speech … but what happens when free speech becomes hate speech, or when personal opinions are represented as facts, with nothing other than hearsay to back them up, what then?

The B Word

The other day I couldn’t help overhear a conversation on a flight from Brussels to Manchester. One man says to another ‘We’ll be better off when we are out of the bloody EU, just look at Sweden, they’re doing ok with their Volvos, and they’re not part of Europe’. Just let that sink in, here was a man so against the EU, referencing the prosperity of another nation, Sweden, as proof of the positive effect of being independent from the European Union. But here’s the problem, if you haven’t already clocked it….Sweden is in in fact in the EU, free movement and all (minus the euro of course)! How can you be so against the European Union when you can’t even grasp the basics of which countries are actually member states?

So yet again we come to the big old B word, Brexit. So many of us have strong opinions on the subject, and so we should, it’s a political event that will shape our lives for many, many (many) years to come, and not for the better if you ask me (although some of you may disagree). The problem is, that to this day I hear so many strong voices, negative voices, claiming the EU is this and that, claiming we will be better off out of it. Of course there are those who shout loudly from the rooftops in favour of the EU, and I certainly won’t pretend to be an expert on the ins and outs, and fine print of the European Union, however I’m not part of the group fighting to change our status within Europe, which has seen the UK grow with the support of its European neighbours, and which allowed me to live and study abroad, a dream which I hope others will continue to enjoy. But on what grounds do those in favour of Brexit justify their opinion, show me the data, show me the plan, which reveals the bright shining future of Britain outside the EU ? I want more than anything to be proven wrong, to find that our post-EU situation won’t be as bad as what I believe it could be…but my hopes are fading fast.

Fake Photos and Unattainable Aspirations

Here in lies the problem, people shouting opinions, spreading information, simply repeating statements they have heard or seen on social media, ultimately leading to chain of misinformation. Of course myths, stories and old wives tales, have spread through word of mouth since the beginning of time, but there this something more sinister, as platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow for the mass spreading of misinformed opinions disguised as facts! Individuals become outraged, emotionally invested in a fact or statement that isn’t even based on truth. They are promised something, a better life, lower taxes, political control. However it is the prominence and prevalence of social media, seeing an opinion on a screen, liked by millions which serves to make such promises more believable.

Even when it comes to the images we see on social media, on Instagram, we are left looking at fake images, fake portrayals of what we believe to be reality. Whether it’s unattainable body shapes, created by Photoshop or practiced angles, we’re taught to believe in something that isn’t real — a political cause, a mass image of beauty, or a lifestyle which we won’t ever live up to.

So here is a call to action regardless of your political creed, left or right, leave or remain, whether you’re a prolific Instagramer or not, next time you feel outraged, intrigued, or even moved by a fact or statement you find online, or hear in the public sphere, take the time to read around the subject before you start sharing your thoughts with others, because informed opinions have the power to change this crazy, sensationalist world, all it takes is a bit of common sense.


Informed opinions have the power to change this crazy, sensationalist world, all it takes is a bit of common sense.

Is European Patriotism the Answer to Far-Right Nationalism?

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

First published in The Palatinate, October 12th, 2018.

For many months now, far-right nationalism has been rearing its ugly head across Europe. In the meantime, the impossible riddle that is Brexit has been dominating the news in the UK — leaving a lot to be desired when it comes to a feeling of pride both on the continent and at home. Europe and the UK are at odds, while the UK itself is divided, not only between leavers and remainers, but between those who want a deal, a no deal, a second referendum, no referendum, and those who would just like to go back in time before this whole Brexit business began.

So the question remains, what kind of relationship will the UK have with Europe following Brexit? And with this what does the future hold for the EU, given the rise of nationalism across the continent?

With the European success against the US in the Ryder Cup, I began to feel a strange sense of pride … those cool collected Europeans, the underdogs, coming back to take the win against those arrogant Americans. A victory on French and European soil. This got me thinking, what if it was possible to foster some sort of European patriotism through sport and sporting success, in order to counteract the growing rise of extreme nationalism across Europe, and in order to reunite the UK with the continent after all this ugly negotiating?

What if it was possible to foster some sort of European patriotism through sport and sporting success, in order to counteract the growing rise of extreme nationalism across Europe?

I know, I know, this opinion might seem unpopular, especially to all those Brexiteers, and Eurosceptics out there, and especially after the wave of pure patriotism felt across England during the World Cup. But think about it for a second, what if we could harness some sort of European identity and set it against rivals such as the US, Russia, or China in a sporting setting not exclusive to the Ryder Cup?

At its core, a nation is built on a common heritage and shared goals. Following this, identity, and pride is founded on the presence of an ‘other’, a rival, or outsider, against which a community can create their own set of values. In Europe, it was easy for a nation to find its own common national history and therefore memory: with its many wars and conflicts Europe’s nations experienced victory and suffered defeat at each other’s hands. Rivals and enemies were created and a national heritage followed. However, as a continent, it was, and is, much harder for Europe to find a defining moment in political or social history that could function as a shared heritage, a shared victory or even defeat… a moment when Europe in its entirety was on the same side.

Just look at the way the country came together this summer, following England’s performance in the football World Cup – despite its deep divisions over Brexit

But what if this could be created in sporting history? Sport, at its core, has a great power to unite people, sure it can also prove divisive, but played out in a setting such as the modern Olympics, a common sense of pride and identity becomes easier to foster. Just look at the way the country came together this summer, following England’s performance in the football World Cup – despite its deep divisions over Brexit. Remember the pride associated with the London 2012 Games, or in Germany’s case the World Cup victory in 1990. The memory of these shared experiences has worked to strengthen national identity. Sports also produces rivals and inspires healthy, and peaceful competition (aside from the odd football hooligan). Now imagine if there were regular sporting tournaments or championships, whether it be football, athletics, or winter sports, that focused on teams grouped not by nation, but by continent?

While I am not suggesting Europe become a federal republic, or demanding greater centralization within the EU, I do think it is high time that us Europeans stuck together. If we were to bring a continent together, moved by a common support for a sporting team, the process of European integration and better yet the project of the EU may still survive the nationalist rhetoric prevalent across Europe, in states such as Austria, Poland, and now Germany, to name but a few. In many ways, the idea may seem just too simplistic, too naïve, too pure of heart. After all, the EU, and Europe geographically speaking, has a lot of issues to solve, not least regarding the refugee crisis, and the general need for reform. But if we could foster that same patriotism and pride, experienced in England during the World Cup, maybe, just maybe, Europe could step back from the brink.

 

Brexit or no Brexit, the UK will always be part of Europe, just as the countries, currently dominated by nationalist rhetoric will remain firmly on the European continent, whether they like it or not. It’s time we appreciated our shared European values which date back for centuries: from culture, art, to sporting prowess, from values such as tolerance, and equality …. From the iron curtain dividing the continent to the fall of the Berlin wall, the European experience is unique. It would be a shame to throw it away for some short sighted nationalism, for a no deal Brexit and an ugly divorce.