By Tony Attwood
Recent studies in psychology and sociology have put forward the idea that when people feel they’ve lost something, then they are willing to take any sort of risk in order to get it back. Even if it never existed in the first place.
This is the simple explanation as to why the notion exists among some people who classify themselves as Arsenal supporters that getting rid of Wenger and having someone else, is a good idea.
What these people feel they have lost is a magical past – a past of Cup and League doubles, and a past of the Unbeaten Season. A past in which George Graham swept all before him, and never put a foot wrong. A past in which Bertie Mee rescued Arsenal from oblivion, and then knew exactly when his time had past and it was time to move on.
Except… actually the past wasn’t quite like that. Bertie Mee had early successes in the Fairs Cup (an early day version of the Europa in which Man U now play, and has often been the playground of Tottenham in recent years) and then won the Double, but then stayed on taking Arsenal into the world of near relegation. If you want to read the whole story in detail it is published in the Arsenal in the 70s series on the Arsenal History Society website. George Graham left the club in mid-table when he was removed from bung taking.
So yes, there were various golden ages, and indeed going back before the 70s there was the golden age of Chapman, Shaw, Allison and Whittaker (that one is traced in the Arsenal in the 30s series).
The problem is that it is always that it is hard to know what it is best to do. But that problem is now worse because we now live in the era of post-truth, the period when make-up stories have become not just the equal of reality but actually bigger than reality.
We’ve watched the evolution of post-truth on Untold across the last few years. Not only has the number of stories presented without any evidence increased beyond anything ever seen before, but it has become clear that huge numbers of correspondents have no real notion what the classic meaning of “evidence” is.
When challenged they cite “the evidence of my own eyes” – evidence that also presumably tells them that the sun moves round the earth, that electricity doesn’t exist, and that the people who appear on the TV screen are actually inside the TV (since one’s eyes don’t actually reveal the signal being sent from the satellite…)
This non-evidence post-truth world is dangerous. This week the campaign manager of President Elect Trump denied that candidate Trump ever called for a registry of Muslims in the US, even though this statement is directly contradicted on camera.
But still people will ignore this, because fake news now gets more attention than real news. People have stopped asking, “is this real” and looking for real evidence. So one person can put up a story that says that climate change is not a real event, and that over 30,000 scientists agree with this, and it gets a huge audience. The story is untrue, because the people claimed as being scientists are not scientists at all, in that they mostly don’t exist. And those that do don’t work in universities or scientific institutes or research centres. But the story is believed and is reposted across the internet.
Earlier this year Untold ran the Transfer Index which recorded over 100 transfers of players that were supposed to be coming to Arsenal, and over 20 players who were about to leave Arsenal. Only around 2% of the stories were correct. Worse, the actual transfers that did happen by and large slipped by without being noticed until a few days before they happened.
Yet if you were to look on sources such as Goonernews and NewsNow, you would find the most read stories all the time were these fake stories.
Let me make that quite clear – the fake stories reported by the Index through the summer were much more widely read than stories about real events. And many of these stories actually claimed that the “deal was done” rather than “there is a rumour that…”
Now unfortunately no one other than Untold seems to have much of an interest in exposing both the mainstream media and the bloggettas for their endless comments that range from the misleading to the downright lies. Which is truly unfortunate, when we look at where things have got to in other fields.
For example, WorldPoliticus.com recently cited what it vaguely called “FBI sources” saying that Hillary Clinton will most certainly be indicted in 2017 for crimes related to her email scandal.
The story (which was quite untrue) got 140,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. But the story actually originated in Macedonia where such sites as WorldPoliticus.co USConservativeToday.com, USADailyPolitics.com and hundreds of others exist all published by a bunch of young guys. All the stories are aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US.
The whole thing was done as a click bait operation, publishing deliberately false stories to get readers in and encourage them to click on the adverts. The point being that although the amount of money earned in the US or UK for such clicks is very tiny, that money paid in dollars to someone in Macedonia is actually worth quite a bit.
Of course Facebook and others could do something about it. A story in the Washington Post reported how a group of postgrads set up a viable truth rating algorithm in an afternoon; Facebook has been saying it is too difficult, then saying it is looking into it, and is now saying it is introducing such a program.
But the fact is, the President Elect of the US has discovered that making things up can work, just as campaigners for leaving the EU in the UK who propagated the notion that the National Health Service would be £350m a week better off by voting to leave the EU, discovered the same.
It is as if the worst elements of football reporting have been taken as examples of how to run political campaigns.
But maybe, just maybe, now that the situation has reached such an extreme level in that stories can be made up and then ignored once they have had their effect, an awareness of all this will cause the backlash we have been missing.
What I hope is that ultimately people do start demanding evidence, and stop thinking that making something up and publishing it as truth, is an ok way to take the debate forward.
Of course much of the storyline in football is trivial. But in football the stories that Arsenal get more injuries than anyone else, that big money transfers generally make clubs improve, that changing managers is generally a good idea, or even that doing badly in November is an Arsenal trait which leads to the club not winning the league, are as fanciful as the notion that Trump never said he would force Muslims to be registered (like Jews in Nazi Germany) or that leaving the EU would mean another £350m a week for the NHS in the UK.
In the end evidence is all that we have, and I think we need to continue to check each and every thing that newspapers say about football. I know some people have got fed up because I have gone on and on and on and on about the Guardian story that Arsenal had only two players who got into double figures last season, but it was a wholly misleading statement, and it is symptomatic of what is happening in football reporting.
And, it seems, that the “who cares about the truth” approach which has dominated football reporting for years has now been taken up in terms of the way the world is reported.
Indeed it almost seems that the Republicans in American and the Leave campaign in the UK, looked at the way football is reported in the UK, without any reference to reality, and thought, “hey, what a clever idea”.
Of course some of the things that Trump and the Leave Campaign each said may well have been true. That’s not the point. The point is that as soon as a politician or a journalist lets one utterly untruthful or misleading notion enter the commentary, the problem starts. The next thing you know, we are in the world of post-truth.
Now somehow we have to try and climb out of the pit and find a way back.
From the Arsenal History Society
“Making the Arsenal” and “Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed history” are available both via Kindle and in paperback. For the Kindle editions please go straight to the Kindle shop, for paperback editions and more information about the books please click here.