Scotsman leader comment: We will always fight the threat to democracy posed by fake news

The Internet Age has helped spread fake news, propaganda and lies and, alarming, this has been an issue during this general election campaign. Our job at the Scotsman is to fight this threat to democracy by giving you the unvarnished facts in news reports that you can trust.

A social media post falsely claiming this photograph of a sick four-year-old boy sleeping on a hospital floor because of a lack of beds was staged went viral after it became the political issue of the day.

More than 200 years ago, the Scotsman’s founders pledged to abide by principles of “impartiality, firmness and independence” while stressing their “first desire is to be honest”.

Given the avalanche of fake news, misinformation and propaganda ushered in by the Age of the Internet, such words have never been more important than they are today – one reason why they are printed in this newspaper every day below the editorial’s masthead.

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In a democracy, citizens need to know the facts about what is going on in their country and the wider world in order to cast their vote in an informed way. If no one can believe anything they read or hear, then the basis upon which we cast our votes evaporates and all we are left with is a choice between vaguely defined political credos that may do more harm than good. It is an environment in which populists who care more about power than the people they are elected to serve tend to thrive, in which the extremists of both the political left and right can prosper as people suffer the consequences of bad government.

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We are not going to suggest which party our readers should vote for because we know you are intelligent people and you can make up your own mind. Instead, we aim to serve democracy by providing you with the facts, without fear, favour or political bias – news reports you can trust because they are produced by journalists committed to the ideals of our founders. And if ever we get something wrong, we will correct our report and let you know.

We also want to let you know what people in Scotland and beyond are thinking. In what we like to call Scotland’s forum for debate, you can read the words of Lesley Riddoch, Kenny MacAskill and others who believe passionately in the cause of Scottish independence, but also hear from defenders of the Union like John McLellan, Christine Jardine and Brian Wilson. Our columnists span the left-right political spectrum. You will read arguments from trans rights activists but also feminists concerned about the definition of a woman being undermined, and people like Bill Jamieson, who sometimes feels a bit bewildered and wishes to self-identify simply as “Bill”.

Hopefully you will at times feel inspired by the power of their arguments, you may also be outraged. But it’s good to know what your political opponents are thinking, if only so you can formulate a reasoned response. And we should all try to be open to the idea that they might be right.

But, of course, opinions have to be based on facts. And that means the truth is of the utmost importance. On Sunday, our sister paper, the Yorkshire Evening Post published an accurate story about a sick boy forced to lie on the floor of a Leeds hospital because of a shortage of beds. It became the story of the day when Boris Johnson was confronted by a photograph of the child amid claims it showed the NHS was in crisis. But then a social media post falsely claiming the picture had been staged went viral, before being debunked by the editor.

The whole world needs to get to grips with this new age of propaganda and the threat it poses to democracy. And eventually it will, but how quickly that happens is open to question. At the Scotsman, we are committed to ensuring that truth remains important in political debate. We have survived for more than two centuries precisely because we can be trusted. And every day we endeavour to retain that trust.