Fiction becomes fact

Henry Ford said that you can have any colour of car as long as it is black. However, that is not true, he never said that, and in fact the Ford T could be purchased in other colours. I do believe that it wasn’t even available in black to begin with and you could even get it in red, it was only until the manufacturing process required it did the colour change to black.

Another story I recently heard is from the Bible, where Mary is supposed to have transcended to Heaven after she died. Yet this was never mentioned in the Bible and was in fact a story that came about hundreds of years after the Bible, looming around in folklore. It wasn’t until Pope Pius XII decided it should be adopted as fact did it become accepted so.

Stories can become fact and history very easily, it takes momentum of voice. Person after person recounting the story to someone new who didn’t know the story before. It’s like a snowball rolled over the edge of a huge snowy mountain, as it rolls down the hill it gathers more and more snow, growing and growing until it careers down the bottom of the mountain a gigantic, unstoppable force with the power to destroy houses and people in front of it.

This is exactly what happens with stories. Something is said and passed to another person, they adopt the story and retell it to another couple of people, a percentage of whom also retell the story to other people, and so on as it builds momentum. It’s like that game of life where it needs a certain percentage of living connections for the mass to grow, the story needs a certain percentage of people adopting the story and retelling it to survive and grow.

At some stage the story grows so large that it becomes fact. This may take many years, but it can happen, and the two high powered examples show us this.

Now with the Internet this revolution of truth could be in danger of attacking our common history and validated truth.

Throughout the Internet there are hundreds of thousands of individuals running their own sites, many of which look quite officious and authoritative, and there are sites which are run by groups of people and advertised as online magazines or news sources. These sites command a far greater audience than individuals without an Internet presence ever had, and they also can become respected, well read and believed.

Speaking of the arena in which I write, movies, legitimate stories appear from a number of larger more news based sources and these tend to be the same sites again and again, but one smaller site will pick up the story first, extract quotes, add comment, and publish it on the Internet for their readership to see. That readership includes a host of other movie sites which will read that content and, if the story or comment is deemed interesting enough, reuse that in their own story. They take that story, quote it, and publish it with their own comment. This goes on and on with popular stories spreading across the movie sites like wildfire, sometimes crediting the site they found the story at correctly, and more often than not, quoting the story and referencing the originating source no matter how far along the chain it is.

This becomes like a giant game of chinese whispers, with a rumour or breaking news spreading across the Internet and altering itself as it gets rewritten. It’s made even worse when site C copies a story from site B and references site B’s source as their own source, thus distorting the story even more. Pretty soon the story has changed, often in minor details, but sometimes quite drastically and incorrectly.

This isn’t just restricted to the area of movies, the entire Internet can be classified quite easily into topical areas where stories can spread in a similar manner. Across these topical groups are spread those individual weblogs and these creep across many of these categories and pick and regurgitate news from all manner of sources, requoting, paraphrasing, and republishing attaching their own commentary.

It’s not just the Internet that’s at fault for this diluting of truth either, the News programmes we watch on TV are slowly creeping from factual to drama. You just have to watch one of the last remaining vestiges of news reporting, the BBC, to understand how sensationalised and entertainment based the news has become. With Newsreaders more focussed on walking around the set, interacting with huge rear virtual projections and adding as many extreme adjectives into a news story as possible to illicit shock and horror, the news is becoming a major entertainment channel, and with that so is fact.

The line between fact and tale is becoming very blurred from both sides, and as this happens that snowball will grow bigger and bigger, and more and more tales will become accepted as fact. Stories that have circled around the Internet have started to be plucked into the news and broadcast.

Combined with the recent unstartling news that the Wikipedia is not one hundred percent accurate, and the move of some major news sources starting to quote its sister site Wikinews, it’s going to become easier and easier for those snowballs to grow and break through the barriers into accepted truth.

What will be accepted truth in ten years, or one hundred, or even a thousand?

6 comments on “Fiction becomes fact”

  1. Rodney Reply

    Kinda like the biblical “fact” that Eve ate an apple from the tree.

    Who said it was an apple? Doesn’t say that in the bible.

  2. Patrick Hadfield Reply

    First, I think we need to be careful with our language: a “fact” is verifiable. What you are describing are not facts – they are clearly stories. They may be true – but no one can prove it. So “story” or “commonly held views” may be a better description than “fact”. This isn’t just me being pedantic – the things you talk about have become accepted as “fact” because people have been told they are! So we need to be careful with language. (Apart from me; “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean; neither more nor less…”)

    Second – and it follows straight on – is that little bit about them being veriable. So writers should do that. Journalism isn’t about cutting up press releases and publishing them as the truth. It should take a bit of work – checking, rechecking, maybe even talking to someone. (This is why I would never be a journalist. It is much more fun to make things up.) People should publish their sources – and then let their readers make up their own minds.

    Thirdly – the internet is different from other media. Anyone who accepts whatever the see on the internet without actually thinking about it deserves to give their bank details to all those Nigerians so keen to give them money. With any media, we need to use our critical faculties – to think things through, investigate, challenge – and with the internet, that need is much greater. There are no sub-editors (though they seem to be a dying race in print media too), no fact checkers – so readers have to do that for themselves.

    The internet is a powerful tool – and I think wikipaedia is an excellent resource. But the reason wikipaedia is so useful is that it takes several people to sub-edit and check it: the readers collaborate to become the editors. So any errors will take time to be corrected – and on some more obscure pages, if no one with knowledge reads the page, it won’t get checked.

    Reader, beware.

    I like your extension to broadcast media, as well. I believe the merging of documentary with drama is dangerous: people believe what they see on TV or in the movies, and they do not appreciate that “Pearl Harbour” may actually be a fiction. I do not understand why every history programme on TV requires to have a dramatisation added – as if anyone now knows what really happened on battle fields even fifty years ago – let alone 100, 200…

    Sorry to make such a long comment – another thought provoking article, Richard. I just hope you checked your sources…

  3. Simone Reply

    Following on from Rodney, or that Christ was nailed on the cross, wasnt it a torture stake?

  4. BrownEyedGypsy Reply

    I hope this isn’t too rude of me…but i couldn’t find a place to post on your movie blog, and Ive been busting to say somthing about “Chapter 27”.(the Lennon murder movie) The idea of this movie greatly dissapoints me. I believe any true Lennon fan would agree that making a movie about Mark David Chapman is giving him exactly what he hoped to derive through Lennons murder. He wanted fame. We are giving it to him. We are reinforcing his theory that through the death of Lennon, his name would live on. What better compliment than to have his murder re-created for all the world to see? Secondly, Lohan is the musical and intellectual opposite of Lennon. He epitomized truth, origionality,& love. Talent dripped from his soul, quenching the thirst of the hearts of millions. Obviously the same can not be said for the underfeed Disney star sl*t wanna-be.Although as far as I’ve read Lohan is not preforming in this movie (please, oh please!), I find it a great oxymoron that she would be in a movie with even the mere mention of Lennons name. She seems to stand for all the things he couldn’t tolerate. I couldn’t imagine it being cast more poorly. (if you delete me I won’t be offended-I just wanted to be briefly heard)

  5. doug nagy Reply

    Wicked post Richard.

    On an unrelated note – I hear you wrestled nessy outta loch ness, just to give her an anchor tattoo.

  6. Lee Reply

    If facts can be verified by witness accounts, as seems to be the case in our magistrates court system, then I can verify the whole wrestling thing.

    BBC2, Monday night, Balderdash & Piffle – the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) entries for numerous words are being challenged by a number of celebrity enthusiastic researchers, with the OED panel seeking to verify the first recorded use / origins of the words. Fact, rather than anecdotal evidence, is what they look for. They do, however, stipulate where a word has no specific origins but is held as “believed to be from”. eg the Cadbury’s flake 99’s entry has been changed as a result of this programme due to uncovering older material than had previously been used. The origin went back 47 years due to uncovering irrefutable facts.

    Where’s Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger (the cabin boy)? Another one people of a certain age will believe as fact because of the very nature of this post’s topic, but in reality there was no Seaman, the cabin boy was Tom, and the Master was Mates.

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