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Ian O'Doherty: Fake news has always existed - they just used to call it 'spin'

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Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay

FOX via Getty Images

Pat Kenny

Pat Kenny

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Gordon Ramsay

Well, I couldn't believe it. In fact, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Had Pat Kenny really been sacked by Newstalk? I'd been on his show the day before and everything seemed normal, but what do I know? Apparently, he was now reduced to selling anti-impotence drugs online, which was certainly an interesting career move.

But there was worse to come. Apparently, several female broadcasters have had to be dragged kicking and screaming from RTÉ and are now flogging an anti-ageing facial mask.

I then saw a similar piece about Gordon Ramsay. The cranky chef was covered in bruises and cuts and he looked like he had just received the hiding of his life. He was also now selling a product to put more lead in the pencil. What has happened to our most cherished celebs?

Nothing, of course. It's just that the people mentioned have all been the subject of fake ads and fake news online. And, apparently, people were swallowing these stories, which were all such obvious hogwash that they didn't even qualify as satire.

Anyone who has ever been the subject of an internet pile-on knows how frustrating the whole process can be. But as irritating as it is to be today's punching bag for the losers and headcases on social media, few of us, thankfully, have ever been used to advertise a form of Viagra.

Yet, incredibly, some people believed what were obviously bogus ads.

In fairness, nobody could blame family members or children of these people for being concerned about such startling revelations.

But as for other people? I know you can't cure stoopid but maybe someone could come with a drug that would alleviate the symptoms.

We live in the Age of Panic, and fake news is often held up as one of the reasons for our febrile mood. But in reality, we're looking at things from the wrong end of the telescope - as per bloody usual.

Fake news has always existed. That's why political parties have an annual conference. They get to tell the delegates all the ways they will fix whatever is broken and... nobody believes a word that comes out of their mouth.

That used to be called spin, and we could see it for it what it was and laugh at it. Nowadays, we call it fake news and promptly have a nervous breakdown.

One of the many, many areas where Brexit has managed to become more toxic than a leaking barrel of radioactive waste is the constant allegations from one side that the other side have been lying.

Whether it was the Leave side's fairy tale of the £350m they were going to give the NHS when they withdrew from the EU, or the dire warnings from Remainers that the UK would run out of toilet paper and everyone would be eaten by foxes, both sides spent more time producing a series of increasingly flamboyant porkies.

Of course, Trump has become the master of smearing anything he doesn't like as 'fake news', and everyone laughs at him for being the thin-skinned man-baby that he is.

In fairness to Trump, sometimes the accusations are indeed fake, but a lot of the time it's simply a way of him throwing some red meat to his base and getting them to attack the messenger rather than examine the allegations.

But what is deliberately faked, and what is simply an opinion that is factually incorrect?

For instance, one columnist recently said that Trump only "won on a technicality", which is a bit like saying a team that had less possession of the ball (as per the popular vote) but still scored more goals (the electoral college) won on a technicality. Well, yeah - if the 'technicality' is about scoring more goals.

Was that 'fake news' or just an ill-informed assertion?

Facebook have improved their algorithms to protect users from fibs. Other social media giants are following in their footsteps.

Various governments, including our own, have launched initiatives to educate us dolts about the dangers of listening to unverified sources - but what about the individual's responsibility to sort out the facts from the fictions?

One of the great imponderables of these times is that we have access to an unprecedented amount of information at the press of a button, yet we seem to have become dumber rather than smarter.

Some people just don't want to go to the hassle of merely Googling lurid claims, and take them at face value. When that happens, the fault is entirely their own.

For all the blather about the grave perils of fakery, we seem to have forgotten the most crucial element in all of this: too many of us have outsourced our critical faculties and are prepared to allow other people do our thinking for us. There was a time when people would be embarrassed about being hoodwinked. Now they complain as if they're the victim of anything other than their own gullibility.

If we need a 'return' to any supposedly lost values, it's the return of a healthy dose of scepticism.

As Lou Reed once said: "Don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear."

Having said that, Nigel Farage just popped up on my screen selling some rather impressive skin-care products.

I might just treat myself...

Indo Review