By Finn Raben

Last year, in a piece entitled “Opinion – Sedition or Seduction”, I commented on the rise of the “opinion culture”, and the fact that we now live in an era that legitimises putting opinions into the public domain with little reflection on their veracity, or the implications of offering them.

The extraordinary ease with which such commentary can be made public – facilitated by the explosion in social media, and further supported by broadcast media – means the corresponding “duty of care” in establishing provenance, applying due diligence/rigour, providing evidence and reporting responsibly, have also become exponentially more important … but is this happening in real life?

In addition, the very nature of global, instant social media favours short, simple messaging, often resulting in quite complex situations being viewed from one, popular and over-simplified perspective – and often a perspective that is a propaganda tool.

On 18 March 2003, the late Charles Kenneday – then leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK – outlined why he did not believe there was a justifiable case for going into war in Iraq, and that public support for the decision was minimal:

“There is huge public anxiety in Britain … only a tiny fraction ever call into question the Prime Minister’s sincerity in this matter … but much as they detest Saddam’s brutality, they are not persuaded that the case for war has been adequately made.”

His party was the only party to vote unanimously against the proposed military action, for which he was heavily criticised – both within and without Parliament. He was also repeatedly asked to retract his position, and when he refused, was roundly attacked in the media. The subsequent invasion of Iraq divided the British electorate, and the net result of the invasion cannot be positioned as a successful example of either “regime change” or indeed “democracy”.

Finn Raben is Director General at ESOMAR. Connect with him on Twitter @Finn01

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