‘A London university lecturer apologises for saying Trump’s immigration ban makes sense’
‘University lecturer compares student LGBT activists to Nazis’
Two recent headlines from Buzzfeed: one about a colleague at King’s College London, and the other about me. A common theme is the shift in focus from the intended meaning of an article or utterance, to supposed offence, thereby defaming the author and generating outrage on the internet. For Buzzfeed is a clickbait news factory, and there is nothing more likely to be shared on social media than someone in a position of influence saying something shockingly deviant from the permitted progressive set of opinions. An emoting pump for a post-factual world, Buzzfeed is acting as thought police.
The first thought criminal was Adam Perkins, lecturer in neurobiology of personality at King’s. In a Twitter discussion, Adam had mentioned a Swedish government report that the Somali diaspora performs badly in employment statistics. Buzzfeed turned to Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s, to rebuff Adam’s faux pas.
Identified by Niall Ferguson in The Spectator as the ‘master of political correction’, Portes pooh-poohed the data cited by Adam. This was not surprising: clever he is, but Portes is a renowned champagne socialist who masquerades as a neutral expert while promoting the mass immigration so at odds with public opinion. David Goodhart, a widely-respected authority on migration and its pros and cons, suggests that Portes should go into the real world and listen to poorer people whose wages have been undercut, while their areas have become unrecognisably transformed by the foreign influx. Previously chief economist for Gordon Brown, Portes was director of economic research institute NIESR, but having used this role as a platform for partisan political attacks, he was finally let go in 2015.
He was presented by Buzzfeed as the higher moral ground, undermining the upstart lecturer. Adam was already known to Portes, who had spent months attacking his book The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality, despite not having read it. When Adam asked how Portes could criticise a carefully crafted text that he hadn’t seen, the tweeted response was ‘Why read a book that misrepresents data?’ In other words, a book presenting the wrong perspective.
Ironically, Portes has also commented on adverse employability in the Somali community, yet Buzzfeed had no interest in this – with their double standards, the liberal-Left has licence (note the lack of furore to Angela Merkel’s planned repatriation of hundreds of thousands of migrants). The report led to a petition against Adam by the King’s Somali Society, supported by the Intersectional Feminist Society, associating him with everything from Islamophobia to Brexit. He was forced to apologise for offence caused.
My experience was to receive an extremely angry call from a Buzzfeed reporter, after an article co-written with Jules Gomes criticising a student union campaign against Lord Carey, had spread over the national media, with reports and editorials in the Mail, Times and Telegraph. The young man was raging: it was like trying to reason with a placard-wielding protestor at an anti-Trump rally. Suddenly I was responsible for anything Carey or the C of E had ever said about homosexuality. In desperate pursuit of an extra dimension, I was repeatedly asked why I would defend conversion therapy – not mentioned in the article, and not my view. Proper journalists seek truth, but this chap was spinning a story for his cause of LGBT identity politics.
Founded in New York in 2006, Buzzfeed was one of several news websites aimed at the younger generation, who never buy newspapers and don’t switch on for television news. It defined itself as a ‘social news and entertainment’ company, presenting ‘the most shareable breaking news’. The sweatshop newsroom scans the web for anything to grab the attention of the young, liberally-minded. Three quarters of Buzzfeed articles are viewed by links on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. In 2015 Facebook launched Instant Articles, and Buzzfeed was among the chosen few allowed to place stories directly on the social network site. This is an open door for fake news.
In January Buzzfeed revealed a scurrilous dossier of Trump’s activities, allegedly gathered by Russian intelligence services, including his remarks on the quality of Moscow prostitutes. The details could be true, but were unverifiable and could have been written by anyone (such as a Buzzfeed reporter). Even CNN called this ‘garbage’. This organisation has abandoned standards of journalistic integrity, and its reputation has been further discredited by claims of plagiarism and copyright infringements.
I am not criticising Buzzfeed or Huffington Post for being blatantly left-wing. People are free to choose where they get information, however biased. But many young people rely on Facebook or other social media screens for news, and will thus only read stories characterising Trump as an ogre, and Brexit as a burst of xenophobia. A broader coverage is needed to bridge the widening chasm between the generations in how they see the world.
So here’s a suggestion: Facebook should give Buzzfeed and Breitbart access to Instant Articles on alternate weeks. The response in virtue-signalling echo chambers would be interesting. The Buzzfed youth would get a healthier, more balanced diet, and realise that the platter of political correctness should be taken with a pinch of salt.