SINCE, when you think about it, there can’t be very many occasions when a stick could be said to have a “right” or a “wrong” end, it’s remarkable how often a large section of the population can get hold of the notion that there is, and then – if the rest of us accept their own terms – infallibly reach for the wrong one.

Some are straightforward faulty recollections; the “Mandela Effect” was named for the impression that lots of people apparently had of remembering news reports of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s.

I’ve always found that one a bit baffling, not least because it suggests that none of them noticed Mr Mandela being president of South Africa for the latter half of the 1990s, which implies a lack of attentiveness so comprehensive that it would also make it unlikely they’d even heard of him in the first place. But there are more plausible and widespread versions of similar misapprehensions.

Misremembering (or improving on) quotations is a prevalent one. There’s “Play it again, Sam”, “Luke, I am your father”, “Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble”, and all the other lines that aren’t in the original works. Since the advent of social media there’s also the attribution of any aperçu – often one diametrically opposed to everything they ever said or believed in – to (take your pick) Orwell, Lincoln, Einstein, Hitler or Churchill.

Then there are cases of drawing exactly the wrong conclusion from some well-known historical or mythical event, of which the most obvious is King Cnut, or Canute, ordering the tide to stop coming in. In the earliest version of this, it’s quite clear that he was making the point that kings had limited power, but for centuries the story was told as if it were the opposite, as evidence of his hubris.

A remarkable feature of the wonderful world in which we now live is being able to watch wrong-stick-end-grabbing of plank-thick proportions happening in real time, as information, or misinformation, gets spread to every corner of the globe in seconds, whereupon it is fleetingly consumed in seconds by people whose attention span can be measured in fractions of a second, and who then regard themselves as thoroughly expert in the topic.

Normally, these are things that have at least some small degree of nuance and complexity, so the idiocies of vaccine, climate-change, 9/11 or Moon landing deniers, while demonstrably false, can sometimes take a bit of time and effort to dismantle. But sometimes they are about as obvious as being convinced, in May 1994, that Nelson Mandela is dead even while his inauguration as president of South Africa is being televised live to a billion people.

The latest example of this seems to be the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager whose acquittal in a murder trial in Wisconsin is being widely held up as an obvious miscarriage of justice and victory for white supremacy. But only, as far as one can make out, by people who know absolutely nothing about the case.

I’m not suggesting there’s any reason why anyone – particularly people who don’t have any connection with the Badger State or expertise in the American legal system – should know anything about it. It would just be nice if, on that basis, they weren’t lecturing everyone else.

Mr Rittenhouse, after his acquittal, has given an interview denying that he’s a white supremacist. That doesn’t prove he isn’t, but nor does there seem to be much in the way of evidence that he is. I have no idea whether he is a racist or not, because – like the rest of humanity – I’m not possessed of a telepathic insight into the inner workings of other people’s souls.

Quite possibly he’s a horrible person with poisonous views – as most of the self-appointed experts of social media seem to have concluded – but there’s no reason, on the basis of the evidence presented at his trial, which is all that you could reasonably go on, to conclude that he’s a racist terrorist and murderer.

Yet almost all the coverage before, during and after the trial suggests exactly the opposite. People who’ve never ventured into America in their lives have expressed their total outrage that Mr Rittenhouse crossed a state line, even though the distance he travelled was about the same as going from Bothwell to Paisley. (I’m not sure why British people are exercised by this arcane detail, or whether they have any notion of why it might matter, especially since he didn’t bring a gun across the border, which would have been the technical offence).

Swathes of newsprint were expended on earnestly telling the public that his acquittal shows that “white reasoning rules”, that it’s now “open season on protestors” and the tears he shed on the witness stand were “for himself, and not his victims” and “an act of thwarted entitlement”. Well, maybe, but how on earth can The Guardian, which printed all this drivel, know?

In an entirely unscientific experiment, the comedian Simon Evans asked, on Twitter, whether the people shot by Mr Rittenhouse were black or white, and fully a third of them got it wrong (all three were white). As it happens, the two he killed also had multiple convictions for violent crime, and the man he injured was pointing a gun at him when he fired.

None of this means that Mr Rittenhouse is some sort of conservative folk hero though, unfortunately, there will almost certainly be attempts to portray him as one. It will strike most of us that his behaviour in wading into the middle of a riot with a gun was at the very least ill-advised; those of us who can’t quite fathom the American enthusiasm for the Second Amendment might also think it provocative and reckless. But the evidence, including quite extensive video footage, showed him trying to retreat from everyone who threatened him, and using his gun only when he was being physically attacked.

It’s too late now. Just as some people will remain convinced that a racist murderer has been acquitted by a corrupt justice system, others will see a liberal mainstream media conspiracy to frame an innocent man heroically trying to defend small businesses from rioters. As with that great American myth, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, no one will pay much attention to the facts of the Kyle Rittenhouse case. They will just print competing legends.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.