IN the great scheme of things, and particularly amidst an escalating and frightening war in the Middle East which is causing vast suffering to the innocent on both sides, a little local Twitter spat on a dreich Wednesday night is no big deal. But it did illustrate for me a problem which, writ large, is confronting us all.

I enjoyed the SNP conference in Aberdeen, finding – perhaps, I admit, a little to my surprise – a party decidedly upbeat despite the difficult last few months, relieved and pleased to have settled on a clear pathway to independence and determined to regain the confidence and support of our fellow citizens who are faced with tough and nervous times.

As part of the preparations and sensibly given the expectation that there would be fewer delegates in Aberdeen than in some previous years given those times, a decision had been made to utilise a space a bit smaller than in previous years – though still capable of taking more than 1000 people.

That hall was reasonably busy for even the internal sessions (which are always less well attended than the big debates), but for Humza Yousaf’s first leader’s address it was virtually full. Only a scattering of seats and a few small rows at the very furthest distance from the main entrance remained empty.

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Humza did not disappoint, with not only a range of important announcements (including the freezing of council tax, which is a practical contribution welcomed by many hard-pressed families), but also with a renewed and determined vision.

His speech, of course, led on practical, personal and heartfelt proposals for alleviating a least a little of the suffering for those trapped in Gaza and was very well received, with what felt like a record number of standing ovations.

Pictures of that enthusiasm were widely distributed, but pictures of the few unoccupied rows were also circulated by a number of media outlets, including ITV, whose correspondent Peter Smith tweeted a small video of them along with a sarcastic comment.

When I saw it on Twitter/X, I pointed out to Peter (whose work on other stories I have admired, especially one in Argyll a couple of years ago) that there was another point of view (literally) that would have told a different story.

I used a picture to make the point, taken from the other side of the room. My contention was, and remains, that at the very least these two conflicting perspectives should have been presented in any reporting on the event. Hence the wee Scottish Twitter spat.

Others can decide by looking at the two images who they agree with on this comparatively trivial matter, but the issue – what fact is and how it is portrayed – is of much more vital and life-threatening importance when applied to the war in Gaza.

We have moved on from the 19th century, when it was claimed that the first casualty of war was truth.

Now in the digital age, the first thought of combatants and their partisans is to influence and indeed direct global opinion with spin, half-truth, untruth and blatant fabrication and by so doing stir up further hatred and aggression.

The weapons put to use in that perpetual, 24/7 battle are social media and – increasingly – the astonishing power of artificial intelligence.

EVEN given the fog of war, it would be possible for those with the experience and expertise to assess on the ground what actually happened at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on Tuesday night. If they’re not able to be there, that task could still be carried out by those who have the skills through an examination of pictures, videos and testimony from the few who escaped.

Consequences should then follow. If it was an Israeli bomb, then it points up undoubted illegal collective punishment by means of blanket destruction and those responsible must be held to account.

If it was a rocket misfire by Islamic Jihad, it confirms the callous nature of those who are hiding behind helpless people, a callousness seen in the appalling bloody attack and hostage-taking that started this present round of what seems an eternal conflict. Either way, it illustrates in the most horrific way the need for an immediate ceasefire, as does the humanitarian disaster rapidly deepening in an area smaller than the island of Islay which is blockaded, starving, deprived of water, almost out of power and in which people are being forced from their homes.

But, of course, there is no source of impartial, factually based information on which we can currently rely on to truthfully tell us who is doing what.

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Allegations of fake video and sound recordings, suggestions that hospitals have been warned that they will be attacked if they are not evacuated, and ever-increasing repetition of claims and counterclaims on all media – but especially social media – add to the clamour and the uncertainty.

That process is being replicated again and again with regard to numerous incidents, each one of which has cost the lives of our fellow men and women, and all taking place in the shadow of a worsening and widening conflict.

We cannot uninvent social media, deepfakes or lying – the last mentioned of which has been around for as long as people have.

But what we can do is hunger after truth.

The first step on that journey is to refuse to repeat – by word or keyboard – anything until we are ourselves convinced by evidence, and to resist the temptation to speak out until we have something constructive and truthful to say.

Have I always kept to those rules? Of course not. Only a saint could claim that, and I am no saint.

But I am a human being, and every human being has a crucial responsibility to try and turn back the tidal wave of distortion and propaganda which presently threatens to engulf us and destroy our compassion – along, perhaps, with humanity itself.