At the end of August (remember, when it used to be a slow news month?), I did a piece about some bizarre pro-Truss poems that were circulating on that internet they have now. I proceeded cautiously, as I’m no fan of punching down at people who can’t spell or understand data. And because, this being that internet they have now, nothing is real except fakery.
In doing so I descended not so much down a rabbit-hole, as a portal into dark underbelly of the human psyche. So you didn’t have to.
The article got more hits than usual and then, quite properly, it tailed off.
What happened next?
Email from a fan
A few days later, I received the following email via my website (which I was on the point of switching off):
Hi Jimmy, re your article about Liz Truss and Bill Sutton’s poems, Firstly, I genuinely loved the piece, it was very witty, ‘spontaneous literary ejaculate’ had me snorting. Secondly, Bill is a spoof account that came about after a few glasses of wine. I created the group ‘Keep Britain British’ as a joke but was surprised to see some far right and right wing people join. Since then it’s become a pure piss take but we have quite a few hard core right wingers who still believe it is a genuine group and Bill is just thick as pigshite. The poems again are a piss take and I was genuinely surprised to see some of them popping up in all sorts of groups, Illiterate Britain, Withnail and I, Yorkshire Bylines etc lol.
Anyway, just thought I would let you know.😊
Is the email genuine?
Short answer: I have no idea. It sounds credible, but then again, that’s what my mother-in-law said about the scammers who rang her up and got her to give them all her bank details. Twice. Plus, anyone who did set up a spoof, would be bound to attract those who took the thing seriously.
The problem of online fakery
I’m genuinely attracted to anyone who likes my material, so they had me there. The audiences I perform to are quite small, so any critical acclaim is warmly welcomed. However, it flagged up one of the most important questions about online discourse in our time: how can we ever know if someone is who they say they are?
If we’re honest, we can’t. I did a bit of research to see if ‘Caroline’ existed anywhere else, without success. If the ‘Bill Sutton’ account is a spoof, whoever did it had gone to the trouble of liking and following nearly a hundred right-wing accounts covering a range of right-wing interests. Not only were all the usual suspects there (Ulster loyalists, pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, anti-woke etc) but some more unpleasant ones too – like one called Sadiq-Khan-Must-Be-Removed-From-Office and The Nonce Police.
The former was a dog-whistle so blatant I could have heard it with my hearing aids out, which repeatedly made the false claim that Sadiq Khan had exceeded his term of office. One presumes, if real, this would be meant to attract traffic from the USA.
Anti-woke but pro-LGBT+?
The one bizarre note, in amongst all this, was ‘Bill Sutton’ following the LGBT+ Conservative account. This really had me baffled. If ‘Bill Sutton’ had been real, it’s hard to see him following that group (which does exist and coincidentally had a brief role in the story of my former MP Imran Ahmad Khan, when he denied being gay after they put out tweets congratulating him on being an openly gay Tory MP).
By the same token, if someone were creating a spoof, including an LGBT+ account in the ‘likes’ would have been discarded, you’d have thought, as not fitting the spoof they might be creating.
If the ‘Bill Sutton’ account really is “a spoof account that came about after a few glasses of wine”, it would have required a diligence and political insight not usually present in drunken internet ramblings. However, speculation is not evidence, which may come as a shock to many internet users.
So, is ‘Caroline’ real? Again, I’ve no idea. If you were going to reveal your identity to a journalist, would you give your full name or use a pseudonym? My first reaction, as well as thanking ‘Caroline’ for getting in touch, was to invite them to do a story for Yorkshire Bylines about it. I’ve had no reply since. Whether this is evidence of further fakery or just someone sensibly avoiding the attentions of some of the darker forces out there is anyone’s guess.
So, what might we learn from this?
Firstly, it challenges us to stop retweeting or sharing every damn thing we see, especially if we don’t know who or what it comes from. I used to teach Yr8 history, and one of the things that even the weakest students were expected to grasp was that you had to know who was saying something before you could decide how reliable it might be.
The second is that there’s an awful lot of awful out there. The sewage being allowed to spill into our rivers and seas is like one of Xanadu’s sacred rivers in comparison although, like Coleridge the morning after a heavy night on the smack, it helps with both if you’re off your tits.
Finally, it just shows the value of proper journalism. If you’re reading this and you think something’s not right, you know who we are and can contact us to correct it. Unlike the anti-Sadiq Khan Facebook page peddling their untrue claims, we’re accountable, so it’s in our own reputational and financial interest to check our facts.
Let’s have a final look at the Fact Scoreboard:
- I wrote a piece about Liz Truss poems.
- A lot of people read it.
- I got an email about it claiming that the account was a spoof.
- I don’t know if the claims in the email are genuine.
- I’m real and am appearing to perform at a variety of venues around the North of England over the next few weeks.
- I have a book out called 9 Displacement Activities, available at https://northernbeatpoetsassociation.bandcamp.com/
- The rest is just speculation, including my assumption that Coleridge was on one when he wrote Xanadu.
- But he was though, wasn’t he?
Stick that in yer blog.