Editorial Board: Living in a post-truth world
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It’s Since 2004, the Oxford dictionary has awarded “Word of the Year” to the word that attracted the most interest and importance in the year. This single word gives us a brief synopsis of the year. During the rise of social media in 2009, “unfriend,” got the award and with the continued surge in digital narcissism in 2013, the word “selfie” received that award. In 2016, “post-truth” was awarded the honor.
Post-truth refers to a period when truth has become unimportant or irrelevant, which, unfortunately, is an incredibly apt choice for 2016. The year saw a rise of entire movements fueled in large parts by outrages that were later shown to be completely fabricated. Yet it seemed as if those who had been affected by the false stories and reports did not seem to care that they were false. So although it is only 18 days into 2017, this attitude sets a precedent for what we think is a strong frontrunner for Word of the Year 2017: Fake News.
Fake News is news published despite being fake. Examples include claims that Hillary Clinton had sold weapons to ISIS, that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump for president that Ireland was allowing American refugees into the country who were looking to escape Trump’s presidency.
These stories sound absurd, mostly unreasonable and, above all, downright false. Yet, despite all of these factors, people still believed. Buzzfeed reported that the Pope’s endorsement story garnered 960,000 clicks on Facebook and was the most popular story on the social media site three months to election day. The story about Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS alone 789,000 clicks. Fake News gets the same attention as any real article. This makes it hard to distinguish truth from falsehood. The trend is even more troubling when you consider that soon-to-be president of this democracy seem to be its chief architect. Trump’s approach is to label news outlets publishing critical stories about him as fake, and thus to discredit them. Journalism and investigative journalism have always been key aspects of maintaining an informed electorate since the start of this country. Thomas Jefferson said that “wherever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government.” This emphasizes the need for multiple and reliable news outlets in a democracy.
The internet age brings with it an overwhelming amount of information, and with that comes a lot of undesirable information. It’s human nature to only want to see things that we like or make us feel safe and comfortable. So instead of taking in all the information, recognizing different opinions and learning to respect them, we choose chauvinism.
With the rise in fake news we are not just chauvinistic but also actively seek out and support people whose views on issues are similar to ours, even if those opinions are utterly fabricated. This scheme has been used by many important political figures in 2016, most notably, the president-elect.
Trump has called CNN, Washington Post, and the New York Times fake news and untrustworthy. But while doing that he also calls TV and radio shows, like Alex Jones’ Infowars after his electoral victory, to thank them for their support during the elections. Jones is known for his conspiracy theories about both the 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shooting describing them as hoax and claims that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are demons. Literal demons.
The issue is that this attitude is creating a vacuum only to be filled by the stories and news outlets that support him. That attitude alienates all other outlets which he, and the majority of his supporters, consider fake. We wonder how people would react if any other candidate or political figure had used this approach? Would the outcome be different if Hillary was first to report her email scandal to the public? Would people believe her? Or would people believe Nixon if he was the one who reported on Watergate? After all, he did end up to be “not a crook.” Does the storyteller affect the story’s acceptability?
With the inauguration Friday also comes another change in America; a new media landscape. Similar to how the internet and social media changed the way news operates, a new president so vehemently against the media will change the way we operate and interpret news. Maybe the fact that this editorial criticizes Trump’s approach will make it lose all credibility among some readers. For others, it may do the opposite. Maybe the Word of the Year won’t be “fake news,” and instead we’ll revert back to the fun, lighthearted internet words, and “dab” will finally get its due. But regardless of what happens, to fight the epidemic of “fake news” and return to a standard of journalistic integrity and facts, we need to learn to accept the facts as they are, respect divergent opinions, and call out organizations that violate journalistic standards regardless of our political leaning.