We’ve been having a look at comments on news articles and social media this week. There seems to be much confusion between opinion and lies.

An opinion is not a lie

There are two main ways in which people formulate opinions.  Some will read an article or listen to the news and decide whether they believe it or not.  This is not the best way to form an opinion unless you have specific knowledge of the topic.  However, when something doesn’t make sense it invariably isn’t sensible! So an opinion may be formed based on the lack of logic.

The better way is to do some research and establish the facts of a matter.  When you have the facts you can think about them, add your own ideas and then post your opinion.

Readers may agree with your interpretation of the facts or may not.  Some might elaborate on why they disagree with you and try to change your opinion. Others might suggest you are lying because they can’t understand how you could possibly have reached your conclusion, given the facts.

A simple example to demonstrate the difference between opinions and lies comes from a BBC broadcast from years ago.

Were people lying when they said spaghetti grew on trees?

On 1 April 1957 BBC Panorama broadcast a ‘documentary’ about a Swiss family who were seen to be harvesting a ‘spaghetti tree’.  It was possibly one of the best hoaxes in the history of April Fool’s Day pranks.  Check out the documentary below:

Very little was known about spaghetti in the UK at the time and it certainly wasn’t readily available as it is today. Canned spaghetti was the closest anyone got to eat a pasta dish in those days.

After the broadcast, hundreds of viewers called the BBC. Some asked if it was true and many sought further information as to how they might grow a spaghetti tree of their own.  In answer to the latter viewers were told to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.

There is no doubt that the BBC lied about the spaghetti the trees and the harvest.  However, it was the state media broadcaster and many people genuinely believed the content of the documentary. The concept of an organisation such as the BBC lying would never have been countenanced.

When talk about growing the trees began between neighbours and friends, some didn’t believe it was possible but others cited the BBC documentary.  Those who believed it was possible were stating an opinion based on the ‘fact’ the BBC said it was.  In this instance the first way of forming an opinion comes into play.  Some people didn’t think it was logical so therefore didn’t believe it.  They were right.  But those who did believe it were not telling lies when they said you could grow the trees.  It was their opinion based on what they had been told and seen.

Think carefully about opinions and lies

Calling someone a liar on social media or an article comments session is never going to achieve a good outcome.  You might consider something to be a lie but it’s not always clear why someone else doesn’t.  You may know it’s a lie so the best approach is to point out why you believe the post is incorrect backed up by credible evidence.

We live in a world where there is an overload of information. Almost everything we read and hear needs to be researched to verify its veracity. Short of little red lights flashing every time a lie appears or having half the world take lie detector tests, our quest for the truth is never easy.  As humans we don’t all think in the same way, even when we are presented with the same evidence. There will alwaysbe opinions and lies but our ability to determine the difference makes for good debate.