Recently politicians have complained, during the American presidential election and the EU referendum, about the misleading or “fake” news stories shared using social media. Many would argue that they cannot “throw the first stone” because down the years so many of them have played fast and loose with the truth. The term “spin doctors” was coined meaning “a spokesperson employed to give a favourable interpretation of events to the media, especially on behalf of a political party”.
The Guardian uses the evidence from this year’s elections on either side of the Atlantic as confirmation that we may, sadly, be living in a “post-truth society”. Mainstream media has been blindsided by the lying phenomenon.
Barack Obama made a similar observation in a New Yorker interview in saying: “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.”
His complaint about is that, in the new media environment, “everything is true and nothing is true. The real problem with new media is the speed with which falsehoods are spread and the difficulty of providing countervailing corrective information.
It’s not the fault of social media but it is a consequence of it, because lies can be passed on so swiftly and indiscriminately. It is also about human fallibility. Lies that play to our prejudices are more easily believed and we pass them on thoughtlessly, exacerbating the problem.
Gone are the days where rumour was spread quietly and privately. It is now large scale and for the world to see. We must renew our desire to pursue the truth as “intrinsically” valuable. We must also learn to question what we read and become more discerning so that we do not fall for the lies and retain our ability to be fair and think for ourselves. Just because it is written “in black and white” it does not make it true!