Anti-vaxxers, the Momo challenge … why lies spread faster than facts

With Trump making six false claims a day and bogus Brexit claims spreading, we live in a disorienting post-truth era. It all began with the David Irving trial, writes Jonathan Freedland

The queasiness keeps coming back, a very specific malady that I thought I’d put behind me nearly 20 years ago. But each time I read about, say, the bogus version of the Lisbon treaty that’s gone viral, or the “malicious hoax” of the Momo challenge, or the rise and rise of the anti-vaxxer movement, the symptoms return, stronger than ever.

If asked by a doctor to describe the sensation, I’d say it feels as if the ground beneath my feet is slipping away, that there is nothing firm or solid to stand on. What triggers it are lies, usually in the public sphere, told by those with power and authority. And it’s not just any old lie, but rather the lie that is smirkingly cavalier in its disregard for the difference between truth and falsehood, that suggests you can never really tell the difference between the two and that it doesn’t matter anyway.

Irving was saying we can’t trust anything – not even thousands of witnesses. Where did that leave what we call history?

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We now know the great prize of Brexit: becoming Trump’s prey

Shall we take a gentle amble down memory lane, a nostalgic trip back to the heady days of the referendum campaign of 2016? So many sweet promises were murmured into our ear, it can be hard to remember them all. No talk then of shelling out £33m to settle a legal case with Eurotunnel or ferry contracts for companies with no ferries, or spending billions to prepare for the cataclysm of a no-deal departure. No, back then it was all cash bonanzas of £350m a week and assurances that Brexit would be smooth and seamless – the Europeans needed us more than we needed them, after all – so that, by the time 23 June 2016 came around, voting leave seemed like a painless, risk-free option. Not only was there nothing to lose, there was so much to gain. And top of the list was a big, shiny trade deal with the United States of America.

The odds are against them, but these MPs could yet change our politics

Westminster has a new parlour game. Since Monday, a conversation with anyone in or around politics will open with a round of “So what are the chances for this new Independent Group?” Players are encouraged to produce ever smarter reasons why the cluster of 11 MPs who broke from their former parties – eight from Labour, three from the Tories – is doomed to fail. Bonus points are awarded for historical references or imaginative use of polling data. By way of a warm-up, there are the obvious early arguments. New or third parties do notoriously badly under our first-past-the-post electoral system: just look at the SDP. There are no heavyweight figures to match the Gang of Four, who broke from Labour in 1981. The Independents have no leader and no clear policy stance.

We failed the young on climate change – now we must listen to them

Such is the upside-down, topsy-turvy state of our world, that the children are now the adults and the adults are the children. In Westminster, our supposed leaders – men and women of mature vintage – keep stamping their feet and demanding what no one can give them.

Football is addicted to gambling – and it’s harming children

It’s a fair bet that the new rules announced today aimed at preventing the gambling industry from targeting children will be welcomed by almost everyone. Who could be against a ban on betting ads popping up on sites, computer games or apps popular with kids, such as the promos that were once embedded in the I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here or Mario Kart apps? Given the extraordinary stats that show no fewer than 370,000 children aged 11 to 16 gamble each week – with 25,000 of those classed as problem gamblers – surely any move to keep young eyes away from temptation is to be applauded.

We can’t wait for a people’s vote: make the case against Brexit right now

Sounding the klaxon and warning of imminent disaster is, it turns out, an even older British tradition than you might think. A tour of the spellbinding Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library confirms that back in the year 540, a scribbling sermoniser by the name of Gildas – surely the Guardian columnist of his day – was writing “on the ruin of Britain”. Even before the country properly existed, there were Cassandras to prophesy its demise.