Lies, smears and political bias dominate social media, a leading MP told a debate on “post truth” Britain held at Bradford Cathedral last night.
Plain-speaking Philip Davies (pictured left with Bishop Nick), the re-elected Conservative MP for Shipley shared a platform with Labour’s Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, Anglican Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines and LibDem peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire.
Some 60 people attended the Post Truth Politics Explored event, the first of a series of debates on contemporary issues organised by the Cathedral’s Dean, Jerry Lepine.
And Mr Davies, who was wrongly alleged on social media to have lost on election night, blasted the online phenomenon of “fake news.”
“If anybody believes what they read on social media, well, they want looking at,” Mr Davies said.
“It’s all about blatant lies and political bias.
“Too many people believe the smears and it’s getting worse.
“I fear politics is on its last legs because of this and is beyond redemption.”
He said social media had created a new culture of intellectual bullying in which anyone expressing independent views was pilloried.
“People are now petrified of getting slated and it depresses me.
“If I had any sense, I’d never say anything controversial again.
“We’re sleepwalking towards a time when everyone just agrees with each other about apple pie and motherhood.
“The problem is people are now not getting their information from traditional media.
“I believe in a free press and we need more responsibility on social media.”
Bishop Nick said there was a problem with people now living in “self-fulfilling bubbles.”
“It can be just self-reinforcing because people only engage with others who share the same views, without being exposed to different opinions and so see life through their own filters.
“And not every opinion is valid.
“Holocaust denial is a very big deal, for example, and anyone with that sort of opinion should obviously not have a right to share the same platform as someone who experienced the Holocaust.
“However, even though dealing with social media is a bit like mucking about with a toddler, because it’s such a new thing, it does mean the end of tabloid newspaper power.”
Naz Shah warned that there was a “sinister underworld” on the internet and that she had been the target of death-threats during the Election.
She said an image of her head in the cross-hairs of a sniper’s rifle had been put on social media.
“It is dangerous when hate speak is put out and if there is no proper dialogue.
“There needs to be more regulation.”
“But I am excited that so many more young people are using social media to get involved in politics.
Lord Wallace said that while we now had the most educated electorate in British history, this was an era of snap judgements.
“People are certainly less patient in listening to political arguments than their parents were.”
But he also targeted overt bias in mainstream conventional media;
“For example I don’t think we’d have had the Trump presidency without Fox News,” Lord Wallace said.
Regarding Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s decision to resign claiming conflict between his personal view of Christianity and his political role, the panel agreed this was deeply regrettable.
“Faith and politics run into each other and it would be a tragedy if people of faith felt they had to stay out of politics,” Lord Wallace said.
Naz Shah said her faith gave her strength and it was vital to be true to yourself.
Philip Davies added: “If you’re going to exclude people of a particular faith – who’s next?
“It’s nonsense and it needs to be challenged.”
And Bishop Nick concluded: “We need to give politicians space to be who they are.”
Audience member Dr Gareth Jones of the Thinking Faith Network said afterwards: “the Cathedral is a great space and exactly the right forum for good, open honest debates like this.”