Is fibbing the future?
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Should you advise your client to lie? Of course, the answer is “No”. But with the success of one mendacious campaign for Leave, and the resounding victory of another for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, it seems that the public is willing to forgive and forget fibbing. And if it works for the Prime Minister, would it not work for a CEO?
It always has been the case that people are willing to accept a convenient platitude over more nuanced facts. Look at the challenges that engineers and scientists have trying to persuade of the low risks associated with, say, nuclear energy or genetically modified food. My friend Professor Ragnar Lofstedt at King’s College, London is an expert on this, and he kindly invited me to speak with his students a few months ago. Interestingly, I found that while they were able to analyses a situation where they weren’t involved, when they had “skin in the game” – for example we had a heated debate about Israel/Palestine – many reverted to emotional responses.
The spin machine led by Boris’s advisor Dominic Cummings has a track record of being fast and loose with the facts. Who can forget the battle bus with “£350 million a week to the NHS” or Boris’ fib about Turkey joining the EU? The electoral laws in the UK have been shown as too week to stop these lies occurring – the courts ruling that as the Referendum was “advisory” the fictions were not illegal. The report into Russian interference in that election was sat on by Number 10.
Emboldened by getting away with it last time – Cummings has redoubled his efforts. He hired a team of antipodean social media gunslingers which has managed to (among other misdemeanours):
Run a “fact checking” service which was actually a Tory front;
Plaster Facebook with adverts, 88% of which have been shown to be false;
Launch a misinformation campaign around a four-year-old by suffering from pneumonia who couldn’t find a bed at Leeds General Hospital.
The “Jack” campaign may yet misfire and cause people to realise how dishonest this campaign has been. But I suspect on Friday we will find Boris back in Number 10, potentially with a working majority.
We can all point to the weakness of the alternatives to Boris. However, the success of two campaigns built on falsehoods raises the question of whether you can lie and get away with it.
Which comes back to the advice that we, as communications professionals, should give clients. Should we keep to the moral high ground, and risk losing out to others who are less scrupulous? Or should we say: “It worked for Boris, why not?”
My position, and conscience, is clear. Never, ever advise a client to lie. If you put victory ahead of truth, you will always be the loser.