‘Post – truth’ world

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

THE idea of a phenomenon like the internet has been floating around since the early 1960s. Though it was Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web in 1989, there were many who can be named as the founding architects of the web.

 

These men and women constituted, in a way, a generation of idealists; with the experience of war not far behind them, they lived in general terms in an age characterised by peace and civil rights movements, one where individual freedoms were considered paramount. Hence, perhaps, Berners-Lee’s decision to not patent his invention, and the conceptualisation of the internet as a place where, above all, there would be absolute freedom of choice, expression and diversity. It was purposely designed as a forum where opinion and debate in all forms could coexist and be available at one’s fingertips. And so it is — theoretically.

 

And yet, nearly 30 years after the internet changed much of how we communicate, in a curious paradox it is becoming a forum from which many people take away not oppositional views, but those that reinforce already held opinions and even prejudices.

 

And yet, nearly 30 years after the internet changed much of how we communicate, in a curious paradox it is becoming a forum from which many people take away not oppositional views, but those that reinforce already held opinions and even prejudices.

 

All people have to do to learn the truth is reach out for it.

Many of those architects might be turning in their grave at the fact that Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, announced last week, is ‘post-truth’. The nomination aims to select a word that “captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year”.

 

‘Post-truth’ — defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs” — beat ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘alt-right’. According to Oxford Dictionaries, the use of the compound adjective had increased in 2016 by some 2,000pc compared with its usage last year. It linked the spike to Brexit and Trump’s success.

 

‘Post-truth’ — defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs” — beat ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘alt-right’. According to Oxford Dictionaries, the use of the compound adjective had increased in 2016 by some 2,000pc compared with its usage last year. It linked the spike to Brexit and Trump’s success.

Many have been left astonished that both these events — the UK’s referendum on European Union membership and the presidential election in the US — played out the way they did. How could two campaigns based in large part on outright lies or misinformation succeed in two highly developed countries that can boast of high levels of education? In both the UK and the US, all people have to do to learn the truth is reach out for it.

 

There are myriad reasons, of course, for how things played out. The one I’m concerned with for the purposes of this space has to do with the way the internet, the primary information/news source for millions in both these countries, works and is accessed. And within the sphere of the internet, social media can also be considered game-changers.

 

Consider this: study after study has shown that increasing numbers of people use social media as the main place from which they get their news, passing on (ie sharing) the items they like, which then show up on social media news feeds of others with whom they are virtually connected.

 

Quite logically, people ‘like’ or ‘share’ mainly what they agree with, ie that which aligns with their already held opinions or worldviews. In other words, networks are created of potentially millions of likeminded people, all of them sharing information that bolsters their mindset. Put another way, on Facebook or on Twitter or wherever, I will be more likely to follow Clinton as opposed to Trump, and my social media friends are my friends probably because they too prefer the rhetoric of the former.

 

Beyond this, there is the matter of how social media algorithms actually work. For example, as explained in an article some time ago by a Facebook representative talking about targeted advertising, the news feed and advertising each Face­book user gets is tailored through algorithms that decode users’ patterns of likes and shares. If I like cat videos several times, therefore, more stuff about cats will be automatically selected to not just appear on my feed but also be bumped up on my page. With this knowledge, it’s easy to see how people with racist, or Brexit, or whatever, views end up having their own views reinforced instead of challenged through the internet.

 

Of course, the internet offers vast opportunities for debate and oppositional viewpoints for those that go out looking. Yet in terms of the results of the US elections, for example, a friend tellingly remarked that she had thought that a Clinton win was in the bag because she reads the New York Times, a newspaper that interests her because it aligns with her own left-progressive beliefs. “I should have been watching Fox News instead,” she said.

 

Indeed.

 

The takeaway, then, for those surprised by Brexit or Trump should be that, first, reliable news reporting from independent sources is more than ever relevant in the slush of the online world. And secondly, we are wasting the opportunities provided by the internet.

The Article First Appeared In Dawn

 


  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

KO SUPPLEMENTS