Five months on, I’m turning my life upside down, leaving full time work and my husband for the life of a single student again at the age of 42. While younger students are worried about lock-ins and missing Christmas, I can’t wait to get on with it. It’s not just any course either: while most people are sick of hearing about the dark arts of spin and fake news, that’s exactly what I’ll be studying. And as Brexit inches ever closer, I’m moving to Brussels to study at the international university there.
Of course, I know that this is going to be a very different experience from the last – top of my list are phone, laptop and face mask, none of which I had when I attended the University of Salford between 1996 and 1999 to gain my BA(Hons) in TV and Radio Production.
At the time, I had wanted to be either a Radio 4 documentary maker or a Radio 1 DJ. After graduation, I went backpacking and did some work experience at a Sydney television station: the originally agreed three days resulted in being sponsored for a visa and I ended up enjoying more than two years there.
When I got back to the UK, I found a job on Slimming World magazine and then spent many years working in journalism, both as staff and freelancer, until, in 2013, I moved my focus into communications and my business took off.
But recently a few threads, both personal and political, have combined to bring me to where I am now – which is in Brussels, about to start a Masters in Political Strategy and Communication at the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies. On a personal level, I’m in the process of divorcing which began a few months before lockdown. That was a particular motivating factor for a lot of personal soul-searching, to think about what I was doing with my life and my future.
One of the things I considered was travelling and finishing the writing of my novel, but travel isn’t all that feasible at the moment. The other was to study again. I’m concerned about the political environment in the UK and so frustrated by the confusing and contradictory information from the government – but as well as that, I’m increasingly concerned about the way that disinformation is being disseminated in the UK. Some of the content that my friends – many of whom are generally smart, sensible people – are sharing on social media is so obviously designed to create mistrust and division in society. Examples? Bill Gates created coronavirus to profit from a vaccine. The Queen orchestrated the BLM protests.
The insidious thing about false news is that there’s usually some kernel of truth embedded in there somewhere, which wins trust; once you have that, you can feed people a load of lies until they don’t actually know what’s true any more. That’s where the distrust comes in – and without trust, we have no society. I find that really worrying. So I thought, well, I do communications for a living, let’s go back to university and see if I can learn more about all of this and try to make a difference and do something that helps the public identify what is fake news, and what is real and true.