Never trust a sock puppet

To the blind indifference of most of the rest of the world, two lesbian bloggers have been unveiled as being fakes.

Rather than being gay activists, they are the one thing that media and the blogosphere has in spades- stupid white men.

But even as gay community groups are understandably outraged that bloggers such as these two would jump on their bandwagon to make a name for themselves, readers must also hold up their hands.

Because just as much as bloggers and journalists have an obligation to write truthfully, readers share a similar obligation to read everything critically.

Journalists are taught that the single best source of information is what you see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears. The next best thing is what is called a “primary source”- someone with insight into or knowledge of what you are writing about.

When reading, many assume that a journalist has established the bona fides of their sources.

Sometimes they have; sometimes they haven’t. Sometimes they can’t. Sometimes it’s not in their interest to do so, as it will kill a very promising story that wins them brownie points with the editor.

So as readers, we shoud always be asking ourselves “why am I being told this? What evidence is the writer offering in support? What is fact and what is opinion? What makes them qualified to write on the subject?”

An even better technique is to read every sentence and ask “how do we know that?”. This one simple question will help you cut through journalistic bullshit like a hot knife through butter.

A good example is the falsehood that regularly gets thrown at me when I speak publicly about the Swedish welfare state. Some sneering gobshtie will always spit out the old line about Sweden having “the highest suicide rate in the world”.

It doesn’t- it’s 18th in the World Health Organisation list, behind France and Belgium, and it’s very easy to disprove by visiting their website. The gobshites don’t sneer any less, but a lot less people listen to them.

Due to it’s very nature, all news cannot be based on instantly verifiable fact, and for one reason or another a source may have to remain anonymous.

Though not always a reason to discount a source, anonymity should always ring alarm bells.

If someone calls me up and tells me something juicy but refuses to divulge their identity, I put the phone down. If I can’t verify what they say, I cannot stand over it when it’s published. It’s out.

But if it’s someone I know and trust who has been right before, and wants to remain anonymous to protect their job or their family, I can view it in a different light. It’s never ideal, but there are degrees.

Bloggers are not subject to the same rules that journalists are, but readers can still apply the same standards of critical thinking to sort out the lesbian activists from the fat white guys in Edinburgh.

If there’s no name or other circumstance, beware. If there’s a back story, check it out – privacy died sometime in the late 20th century with the advent of Google and Facebook, so it’s pretty easy to check the details of even the most mundane of lives.

For the record, my identity is pretty much in the public domain, as is virtually everything I write. Those of you hoping for an admission that I am in fact a lesbian activist from Tulsa will be sorely disappointed.

As am I, in some small way- it might mean I’d have more success with the ladies…