A brief turn in Brighton

Welsh Assembly member and leading Lib Dem blogger Peter Black
enjoys an all too short visit to Bri

The sunshine that greeted representatives as they arrived in Brighton managed to last into the Sunday morning, but by then the wind had already started to pick up and dark clouds were gathering above our heads. By Monday the wind had died but it was still overcast.

In contrast the mood of Liberal Democrats at this year's Conference is sunny and upbeat. At last we are really putting some meat on the bone with respect to our green policies, our Shadow Home Secretary is taking a principled Liberal Democrat stance on the surveillance society, including the whole state apparatus of ID cards, CCTV and DNA data banks and having settled for Ming as our leader, the vast majority are getting behind him and willing him to succeed.

As a Welsh Assembly member my stay here can be only short. The Assembly is back in session on Tuesday so I must leave the Sussex coast at 8am that day to debate affordable housing in a place where my views can hopefully have an immediate impact.

Most of the debates in the main hall on Sunday and Monday are English-only topics or on matters that I can safely leave to others, so my main focus has been on the fringe meetings and on the Welsh media. I made a point though of attending Ming's question time session, if only because the media will want my comments on the answer to the inevitable question on leadership.

Sunday saw an interview with Radio Wales and BBC Wales about the inevitable leadership issues, but this time the leadership of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly group as well. After that it was off to a meeting about the Severn Barrage, the Conference rally with the federal leader himself addressing us, Shelter and the annual Lib Dem blogger awards.

Entitled 'Human rights and civil liberties: home and abroad' the rally was a celebration of the essence of Liberal Democracy. A packed auditorium heard passionate speeches in defence of the right of dissent by Nick Clegg MP, Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, Philippe Sands QC and Sir Menzies Campbell. If anybody ever questions what the Liberal Democrats are for again they should be made to watch video footage of this event.

Alas I did not win the award for best blog by an elected representative. That honour went instead toCouncillor Mary Reid of Kingston. Liberal Democrat blog of the year went to James Graham's Quaequam blog.

Highlight of the night was the award for most humorous Lib Dem blog, which was won by Liberal Mafia. In time honoured fashion Don Liberali was unable to attend in person but sent an acceptance note instead together with the present of a horses head, not a real one you understand but convincing nevertheless.

Monday saw a session with the Police Federation, held under Chatham House rules. This was an opportunity for both sides to explore issues of mutual concern and for some lobbying to be carried out in respect of our manifesto. The one thing that become evident as we move from fringe meeting to fringe meeting is the respect that various lobby groups have for our spokespeople. We listen and we respond. That does not always happen with Labour and the Tories.

Tuesday morning and I am on my way back to Cardiff. It has been fun. Roll on next year.

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.