Image collages have been doing the rounds on social media of empty green benches where MPs are debating serious issues like child abuse or low pay, juxtaposed with a packed house of commons where MPs are allegedly debating MPs pay or expenses. Telegraph journo Isabel Hardman who also edits the coffeehouse blog at the Spectator has been taking the facebook and twitter denizens to task for gullibly believing these memes, which she ascribed to ‘two anarchist sites’ while on on Radio 4 ‘today’, where she discussed her coffeehouse article this morning. She told us that it was odd but true that people didn’t believe what they were told by the BBC or other MSM, but believed uncritically what they saw on facebook or twitter. One of the meme images as seen below has been shared 65,000 times or more.
But has Isabel done her due diligence here? Lets take a look.
In her article, Isabel correctly points out that the image labeled ‘Debating MPs pay’ is in fact not of that at all:
The next image claims to be a debate on MPs’ pay. Well, I suppose if you count MPs coming into the House of Commons on the first day of the new Parliament after the 2010 election a debate on MPs’ pay then maybe. But you can read the Hansard here, just to be sure.
And the other similar meme image?
…it’s not from a debate about pay in 2013. It’s from Prime Minister’s Questions on 5 September 2012.
Bang to rights then. But hold on, where did the ‘anarchists’ (one of whom turns out to be a chap called Marc Damian Rhodes-Taylor) get the two meme images? It turns out they had quite a few choices of which pages on the net to lift them from.
The BBC itself used meme #2 for a piece entitled ‘MPs’ pay: Party leaders told not to interfere’ on July 5th last year. Image caption: Many MPs believe their pay has been held down for years for political reasons
The Guardian used meme #2 in a piece entitled ‘MPs’ pay rise: the proposal explained‘ a week later on July 11th which is probably where the first blogger lifted it from since this is the date they ascribed to the event. Image caption: The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority proposals aim to offer MPs a salary that will avoid further scandals. Photograph: Pa
The Grauniad used meme #1 in January 2013 for a piece entitled ‘Should MPs’ pay be increased?’
Image caption: The survey, carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, also found more than a third of MPs believe their final-salary pensions should remain intact. Photograph: PA
The Daily Mail used meme #1 in a piece entitled ‘The Commons ‘men in tights’ paid more than MPs they serve‘ all the way back in 2010 Image caption: ‘Underpaid’: MPs are calling for a salary shake-up, furious that some of their staff are being paid up to £60,000 more than Prime Minister David Cameron
and again in a piece entitled ‘MPs are earning up to 13 TIMES their salary by taking on second jobs‘ in August 2012 Image caption: Extras: Dozens of MPs have been found to be earning tens of thousands more by having second jobs
So where does this leave Isabel’s theory regarding silly facebook users taken in by silly facebook ‘anarchists’ who associate a packed house of commons with MPs pay as a deliberate prank to undermine our trust in our elected representatives, which then then gets retweeted by twits?
Isabel bemoans the fact that:
…the lack of suspicion about what the graphics purport to show doesn’t just arise because MPs have let us down. It’s also because of a failure to read the internet critically.
Maybe if the MSM, including the BBC itself, who unquestioningly gave Isabel the platform this morning to espouse her poorly researched thesis didn’t constantly use the images in question in association with stories about MPs pay, then social media users wouldn’t quite reasonably assume that is what the images represented.
Isabel is a pretty even handed and competent journalist, but something clearly went wrong here. Did she really not check where the image had been used in the past? Or did she uncritically assume that the hoi-polloi were doing their uncontrolled and ill-informed thing on facebook and twitter and haven’t learned how to get their information from ‘trusted sources’ such as, errr, the Guardian, or umm, the BBC.
I’m filing this one under BUSTED