Rihanna or the Queen: who does the Daily Mail prefer?

Play the game and find out.

The runaway success of the Daily Mail website – in terms of traffic at least – has intrigued many an onlooker, not least because its approach is dominated by paparazzi photographs of US celebrities, taking it away from the kinds of news and issues the paper has covered for decades.

But has the Mail really changed its coverage that much in search of random web traffic? After all, it is surely no coincidence that its best ever month online was April, coinciding with the royal wedding – and there can surely be few subjects closer to the hearts of conventional Mail readers than the royal family.

Based on that premise, we've devised this game. All you have to do is guess which person in each of the following pairings returns the greatest number of Google search results from the Daily Mail website.

Let's start with a really easy one so you get the hang of it (in each case, the answer immediately follows the pictures). 

So, first up is the Queen versus the pop singer Rihanna:

Queen_Rihanna

That's right, it was an easy one. A search for "The Queen" returns a staggering 181,000 results from the Daily Mail website but that is nothing compared to "Rihanna", who returns 331,000 results.

Hopefully you understand the rules now, so let's try another one. How about Kate Middleton versus the US socialite Kim Kardashian?

Kate_middleton_Kardashian
No contest. "Kim Kardashian" – a permanent fixture on the Mail's website – returns 151,000 results, while "Kate Middleton" returns just 43,400.

Time, then, for the royal family to raise its game. So, taking on Lady Gaga, we have the combined might of the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince William and Kate Middleton. It's four against one. Can the royals win?

Gaga_Royal_family

Of course they can. That royal foursome returns 417,770 search results combined, beating Lady Gaga by a whole 4,000 results. The quirky US pop singer – and the brightest star in the Mail's firmament, it would seem – manages just 413,000 results.

Outside of the royal family, how do we think a showdown between the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber plays out on the pages of the Daily Mail's website?

Bieber_Cameron

That's right, not very well for the Prime Minister. A search for "David Cameron" returns 78,000 hits on the Mail's website, while a search for "Justin Bieber" returns 278,000.

But then, the PM isn't even the biggest draw in his own home. A search for "SamCam" returns 98,000 results (though the more traditional "Samantha Cameron" yields just 18,200).

Will Sturgeon runs The Media Blog. This post originally appeared here.

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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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