By Tony Attwood
President Barack Obama recently stated,“The appetite for information and data flowing through the internet is voracious”, yet “we’ve seen newsrooms closed. The bottom line has shrunk. The news cycle has as well.”
He said that this resulted in pressure, “to fill the void and feed the beast with instant commentary and Twitter rumours and celebrity gossip and softer stories. And then we fail to understand our world, or one another, as well as we should.”
In a similar mood, Paul Mason previously of Newsnight and Channel 4 News, wrote recently in the Guardian. “Wherever the internet is not censored it is awash with anger, stereotypes and prejudice. Beneath that is a thick seam of the kind of material all genocides feed off: conspiracy theories and illogic. And, beyond that, you find something the far right didn’t quite achieve in the 1930s: a culture that sees offensive speech as a source of amusement and the ability to publish racist insults as a human right.”
And of course the internet is full of untruths. Here’s one Blacksheep told me about in the pub before the Watford game. It is a story that regularly does the rounds.
Pythagoras’ Theorem: …………………….24 words.
Lord’s Prayer: …………………………………… 66 words.
Archimedes’ Principle: ……………………………67 words.
Ten Commandments: …………………………………179 words.
Gettysburg Address: …………………………………………286 words.
US Declaration of Independence : …………………………1,300 words.
US Constitution with all 27 Amendments: ……………………7,818 words.
EU Regulations on the Sale of CABBAGES: ………………26,911 words
That just about does it for the EU doesn’t it? You may have heard it. It has been publicised a lot.
Indeed a lot of people have just republished this over and over as “proof” that the EU is a corrupt and/or pointless organisation. And a lot of people believe this.
This morning, reflecting on the issue, it took me perhaps five minutes to go from ignorance of the story to having a reasonable amount of insight.
The cabbage story turned up in Pearls of Wisdom: A Book of Aphorisms in 1987 and seems to have been a significant part of anti-Federal government propaganda in the US in the 1950s. In fact The Washington Post has apparently twice run articles detailing its known history – although here I must admit I could only find clear records of one of them, in 1992.
It still does the rounds and is still completely untrue. The regs run to 1990 words and are there to prevent dubious farmers selling bad veg to shopkeepers. (Of course you might want the right to buy diseased and unknowingly genetically modified veg that went wrong, and so might not want these regulations, but most people don’t seem to want farmers to have a total free-for-all).
But then one might imagine what the length of anything written down has to do with football. The ten commandments are indeed short, and were, as I understand it, meant to be ten simple rules from God that everyone could remember. So they had to be simple. Because they had to stick in the memory.
“Thou shalt not kill” at four words is about as basic as it gets, but wasn’t much use on its own in helping consider the fight against Nazism 1939 to 1945. To cover that you need a bit more detail – in fact quite a lot more detail, and this tells us at once that it is not the number of words that matters but the meanings they convey. It is to do with what you are trying to set out – in God’s case a universal law for all time which actually needs amendment come wartime, when handling acts of mass genocide, and dealing with deranged mass murderers who manage to persuade a population to go along with their whims.
Indeed in the contemporary world these simple statements in fact are often not very helpful. We have one that besets the industry I work in – “A picture is worth 10,000 words” (Confucius). Actually traceable back to a design company in Chicago not ancient China, and there is not a shred of evidence to support it. In fact the reverse is true if you take the statement to have something to do with quickly made an idea memorable.
But people believe this stuff, just like for years they believed that Arsenal under Wenger had more red cards than any other team, that Arsenal get more injuries that any other team, that Wenger causes all these injuries (that we don’t get) through pre-historic training methods, that “it all evens out in the end” with referee decisions, that building the New Arsenal Stadium was an unnecessary mistake, that Arsenal is the most expensive club to support, that most Arsenal supporters are anti-Wenger, that George Graham match by match did better than Arsene Wenger, that Arsenal somehow fixed their way into the first division in 1919… pick an era and there is a story there waiting for you. Indeed you might be surprised as to how many anti-Arsenal myths there are, and how many of these are propagated by the media.
Which brings me to the issue of what people say when they write to Untold.
Of course you can see what a lot of people write in and say, because we have a comments section. But what you don’t see are the comments that get deleted automatically by our systems (but which are still readable by the four of us who act as administrators) and those which we manually get rid of.
Yes, blocking all these messages is censorship, and I’ve never tried to hide it. In fact there is a whole article about it on permanent display. Just look at the “Pages” heading on the left column and you’ll find “Comments”
My main interest however is not in blocking such comments but asking why people do the things that lead to their comments not being published? I means, why waste all that time writing something that will never see the light of day, and much of the time never be read by another human being (assuming the writer was human)?
I think it is a fascinating issue – why would someone bother to write to Untold and tell us that everything we are doing and saying is wrong?
And it isn’t just the lack of awareness of the context of the site (after all, “supporting the club, the players and the manager” has been on the masthead for since 2008). It’s just, well, nonsensical. One could write a piece saying that supporting the club, the players and the manager is a stupid thing to do and that the club is bigger than the manager, so we should not support the manager. Yes, an argument could be made out of that. But even so, supporting the manager is our standard position. So why bother to tell us that we are wrong?
Ignoring the context, throwing in abuse, being ignorant of the key points in the issue, disagreeing without any evidence or logical argument – it has become the everyday of some correspondents. And I want to know why they bother.
And all that is before we get the cabbage writers who make up “facts” as they go along. (Actually, I quite like “cabbage writers”. I seems to cover a particular group.
So what are these people up to? Are they expecting publication to influence the Untold audience? Are they expecting to change the mind of the editors of the site?
I doubt it. I think there is something else going on, and it takes me back to research undertaken by the behaviour psychologist BF Skinner, as to why teachers punish children (they used to hit them but don’t do this so much these days in UK schools) when all the evidence shows that punishments tended not to reduce what the teacher defined as bad behaviour, in the long term.
Yes the punishment stops the behaviour there and then, but it tends to return. So why not use a system that does stop the bad behaviour in the long term (and there are several such approach around – and I know because about 20 years ago I wrote a book on behaviour and discipline, and did the research). They do it because punishing makes them feel good. It makes them feel as if they are doing something.
So I guess it is with the cabbage writers. Writing to Untold (or anywhere else) makes them feel good – even if we don’t publish their comments. (Indeed I suspect most don’t even go back to check that we have published them).
Thus Untold Arsenal has become a free public service. I do hope we get some recognition for that.
- Women’s FA Cup Quarter Final Arsenal v Notts County Sunday 3 May 2016 – Preview
- Arsenal v Watford and a little bit about the one man war zone that is Costa.
Oh were mine eyeballs into bullets turn’d that I in rage might shoot them at your faces!
Henry VI Part 1
3 April 1917: With an extraordinary foresight into the nature of UK television in the 21st century Lenin said, on this day, “Any cook should be able to run the country”