In a spin

Now that I am through the petulant, incredible sulk evoked by the hijacking of my birthday by General Election shenanigans – i.e. who is going to want to stay up we me all night on December 11th, when they can stay up all night in cross-media infographic heaven on December 12th? –  I have poured my energy into reflection on my personal voting history. Consequently I find myself in a bit of a spin and not envying some of my students who will be voting for the first time before Christmas.

It turns out that my students don’t need my pity; they are all over this election like a rash and much better informed than I am – or ever was.

As an educationalist and one-time media teacher, I now realise I have been guilty of believing that any young person glued to their iPhone is at risk of passive consumption of election misinformation. I get on my soap box to explain the dangers of fake news;  I seize every opportunity to encourage ‘active’ reading and leave no stone unturned in my drive to explain what a broadsheet newspaper actually looks like (‘compacts are also available, but steer clear of the tabloids, students’).  When the students respond with , ‘Tell us another of your prehistoric stories, Miss,’ I feel that Emily P may have suffered in vain.

It turns out that the students have a point however, and I might benefit from tuning in to their more contemporary debate.  They are more worried about how we Millennials are going to spoil our ballot papers, for they point out that we are just not literate enough to consume the new technology and media channels the parties are now using to justify their manifestos.

I scoff, pointing out that I am partial to the odd blog and am not adverse to chuckling at the occasional political meme or twit.  ‘Can you spot a ‘deepfake’ though, Miss?’ they ask and I surreptitiously try to google what that is in a desperate act of face saving. I realise I can not.

Doing my homework later I discover that AI is now so sophisticated that any image or sound can be fabricated to appear real.  I naively thought this technology was confined to Hollywood studios and put into use only when an actor had to be replaced on screen (through death or misbehaviour – or both) half way through filming.  I thought camera apps were only used for elongating legs and adding cute animal ears on existing photos – after all, I had sat bewildered in the passenger lounge at Nairobi airport this summer, watching a woman edit her safari photos (I know, I shouldn’t have been looking, but I was gob smacked to see such beautiful wildlife photos being doctored because the woman clearly felt her legs were showing too much cellulite). Now I realise that deep-fakes can not only put pictures of other people’s faces on actors’ bodies, but that they can also put words in the mouths of politicians – surely these public servants have enough to say for themselves?

I have been so proud of being media savvy enough to ensure my cookies are switched off and my algorithms muted over my political leanings (no fear of allowing a trail of political ads to follow in my facebook wake, surely?) yet now I realise I am not sure if I have been catching up on real Boris, real Jo or real Jeremy (read nothing into the order of these names) as I’ve swotted for my December 12th final exam.  It is a cautionary lesson to discover that I have been doing the wrong type of deep learning.

Back in the day, one of the few things I can remember from history A Level is a class debate about whether David Lloyd George would have become Prime Minister if the paparazzi had existed in the inter-war period.  I believe we concluded that if the public had known about DLG’s colourful private life, he would not have made it to Downing Street.  On this basis, I have since blithely believed that with the free press – and the transparency that social media now ‘affords’ to those in public office –  the voting public can at least go to the polling station well informed. Now I can see that we have much more information at our finger tips, but I have unwittingly being consuming much of it in a passive fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, I can tell if Trump’s machismo-intending photo tweet includes his face but not his body – even a luddite like myself knows that if you are going to superimpose your pan-sticked orange face on Rocky Balboa’s body and try and get away with it, the least you can do is match the skin tones. I can also tell that any political leader who feels that the voting public can be swayed by pictures of their six pack is too psychologically messed up to lead their country – but then I am not responsible for voting Trump or Putin in.  I just remain grateful that even Boris had kept his shirt on so far.

Back at the soap box, I realise that the students have got all bases covered.  They are not only all over social media, they have invited the main political parties in to explain their manifestos in person. The students ensure that the younger years all come along as well – persuasively arguing, ‘it’s your future’.  I look at the packed lecture theatre and worry not about hackneyed complaints that ‘the Youth’ won’t get up off the sofa and leave ‘I’m a Celeb’ to vote in an election (it is us Millennials they should be worried about).  The students grill all the contestants, sorry, candidates and take no prisoners as they hold their feet to the fire on university fees and climate control.  I feel our future is in safe hands.  Proud, I share a photo of the debate on social media, then realise I need to delete the tweet for one of the teachers at the debate has been photographed distracted on his phone – perhaps he is googling  what a deepfake is?.

At school we receive emails from all the political candidates before the day is out telling us what polite and well-informed students we have.  We do.  I hope the parties follow their lead over the next through weeks.  Thanks to the students’ flipped teaching, I can now easily identify google jacking, a dead squirrel strategy and creative charting.  (dm me if you need more info, people). All this new information is exhausting; Lloyd George would be turning in his grave.   In fact, I think we are all feeling some spin fatigue.  I may get round to blogging about it, if inertia and birthday excess don’t  kick in.




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