Charlie Hebdo is written near flowers and candles left at the Place de la Republique at midday in solidarity with victims of yesterday's terrorist attack on January 8, 2015 in Paris, France. Photo: Getty Images
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Charlie Hebdo: what we know so far

Police in France are still tracking the three men responsible for killing 12 people yesterday at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Mass vigils are held around the world.

Police are still attempting to track down the three suspects believed to be responsible for yesterday's attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Meanwhile, people and organisations around the world have condemned the murder of 12 people, with many cities seeing spontaneous vigils where pens were held aloft in celebration of the right to satire and free speech.

French police have released the names of the 12 victims from the attack. They are:

  • Frédéric Boisseau, maintenance worker
  • Franck Brinsolaro, police officer
  • Jean "Cabu" Cabut, cartoonist
  • Stéphane "Charb" Charbonnier, editor-in-chief
  • Elsa Cayat, psychoanalyst and columnist
  • Philippe Honoré, cartoonist
  • Bernard Maris, economist and shareholder in Charlie Hebdo magazine
  • Ahmed Merabet, policeman
  • Moustapha Ourad, proofreader
  • Michel Renaud, festival organiser
  • Georges Wolinski, cartoonist
  • Bernard "Tignous" Verlhac, cartoonist

Clockwise, from top left: Jean "Cabu" Cabut, Bernard "Tignous" Verlhac, Stéphane "Charb" Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski. Photo: Getty Images

The remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo have said that they intend to print the magazine as normal next week, with an estimated print run of a million copies (compared to a usual run of around 60,000). The Guardian reports writer Patrick Pelloux saying that "stupidity will not win". Google has donated 250,000 to the magazine, while the staff have accepted an invitation from Libération magazine to use their office for work.

Three suspects have been named by French police: brothers Saïd Kouachi (32) and Chérif Kouachi (34), who are alleged to have carried out the attack, and 18-year-old Hamyd Moura, who was named as the driver of the getaway car. However, Moura reportedly handed himself into police immediately, with classmates claiming he was in school with them throughout the day of the shooting. At the time of writing, police are going door-to-door through the village of Corcy, northeast of Paris, believing the two brothers to be hiding somewhere in the area.

Reactions from around the world to the attacks have ranged from shocked to defiant. Many major cities, including London, Berlin, Moscow, Tunis and Rio de Janeiro, saw main squares and streets filled with candlelit vigils - and many people have stood while holding pens or pencils aloft, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims:

A vigil in Lyons. Photo: Getty Images

The vigil in Trafalgar Square, London.

Cartoonists from every corner of the planet have also responded to the events in Paris yesterday.

However, there have already been several reprisal attacks reported by AFP against mosques across France. Early this morning a street cleaner and a police officer were also both shot in southern Paris, with police treating it as related to yesterday's attack.

GEOGRAPHY PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
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Fake news sells because people want it to be true

The rise of bullshit, from George Orwell to Donald Trump.

When is a lie not a lie? Recently, the Daily Telegraph reported that university students had demanded that “philosophers such as Plato and Kant” be “removed from [the] syllabus because they are white”. Other outlets followed suit, wringing their hands over the censoriousness of today’s uninquiring young minds. The article generated an extraordinary amount of consternation click bait. Angry responses were written and hot takes were quick-fried and served up by outlets anxious  to join the dinner rush of  ad-friendly disapproval.

It’s a story that could have been designed to press every outrage button of the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. It has students trying to ban things, an apparent lack of respect for independent thought and reverse racism. It seemed too good to be true.

And it was. In reality, what happened was far less interesting: the student union of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) at the University of London had proposed that “the majority of philosophers on our courses” be from Asia and Africa, and that the Western greats be approached from a “critical standpoint”. Some might consider this a reasonable request, given that critical analysis is a component of most philosophy courses, and Soas has a long tradition of promoting the study of the global South. Yet a story about students declaring Kant irrelevant allows the Telegraph to despair for the youth of today and permits advertisers to profit from that despair.

People didn’t start pumping out this stuff because they decided to abandon journalistic ethics. They did so because such principles are hugely expensive and a hard sell. Even those of us who create and consume news can forget that the news is a commodity – a commodity with a business model behind it, subsidised by advertising. Rigorous, investigative, nuanced content, the sort that pays attention to objective facts and fosters serious public debate, is expensive to create. Talk, however, is cheap.

Fake news sells because fake news is what people want to be true. Fake news generates clicks because people click on things that they want to believe. Clicks lead to ad revenue, and ad revenue is currently all that is sustaining a media industry in crisis. Journalism is casting about for new funding models as if for handholds on a sheer cliff. This explains a great deal about the position in which we find ourselves as citizens in this toxic public sphere.

What has this got to do with Donald Trump? A great deal. This sticky, addictive spread of fake news has fostered a climate of furious, fact-free reaction.

Press outlets give millions of dollars of free coverage to Trump without him having to send out a single press release. The reality TV star is the small-fingered god of good copy. The stories write themselves. Now, the stories are about the threat to the future of journalism from the man who has just entered the Oval Office.

Trump’s first press conference in six months, held at Trump Tower in New York on 11 January, was – by any measure – extraordinary. He did not merely refuse to answer questions about unverified allegations that he had been “cultivated” by Russia. He lost his temper spectacularly with the assembled press, declaring: “You’re fake news! And you’re fake news!”

Trump did not mean that the journalists were lying. His attitude to the press is straight from the Kremlin’s playbook: rather than refute individual accusations, he attempts to discredit the notion of truth in journalism. The free press is a check on power, and Trump likes his power unchecked.

Writing in the Guardian in 2015, Peter Pomarantsev noted of Putin’s propaganda strategy that “these efforts constitute a kind of linguistic sabotage of the infrastructure of reason: if the very possibility of rational argument is submerged in a fog of uncertainty, there are no grounds for debate – and the public can be expected to decide that there is no point in trying to decide the winner, or even bothering to listen.”

If people lose trust in the media’s capacity to report facts, they begin to rely on what “feels” true, and the influence rests with whomever can capitalise on those feelings. Donald Trump and his team know this. Trump doesn’t tell it like it is. Instead, he tells it like it feels, and that’s far more effective.

Fake news – or “bullshit”, as the American philosopher Harry G Frankfurt termed it in a 2005 essay – has never been weaponised to this extent, but it is nothing new. George Orwell anticipated the trend in the 1930s, looking back on the Spanish Civil War. “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world,” he wrote. “Lies will pass into history . . . In Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie . . . In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that ‘facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable.”

This is the real danger of fake news, and it is compounded by a lingering assumption of good faith on the part of those who believe in journalistic principle. After all, it’s impossible to prove that a person intended to deceive, and that they didn’t believe at the time that what they said was true. Trump may believe in whatever “facts” he has decided are convenient that day. When he insists that he never mocked a disabled reporter, whatever video evidence may exist to the contrary, he may believe it. Is it, then, a lie?

Of course it’s a lie. People who have no respect for the concept of truth are still capable of lies. However, they are also capable of bullshit – bullshit being a register that rubbishes the entire notion of objective reality by deeming it irrelevant. The only possible response is to insist, and keep insisting, that the truth still means something.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era