Post Truth, Fake News and the New Trump Order
On the run up to the US election, The Denver Guardian reported that an FBI agent connected to Hillary Clinton’s email leaks had murdered his wife and shot himself. We also found out that WikiLeaks confirmed that Hillary had sold weapons to ISIS and that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. Not to mention that Donald Trump tweeted: “Utah officials report voting machine problems across entire country.”
What all this news have in common is that they are fake. The Denver Guardian is a fake site. There were no WikiLeaks e-mails confirming that Clinton sold weapons to ISIS but only false tweets posted by social media users. Reports of his holiness endorsing the now president-elect originate from another fake news website WTOE 5 News. Trump’s tweet was really posted by him, but what he wrote was a lie. From Facebook to fake news websites, twitter posts and other social media outlets, hoaxes and misinformation were reported and circulated, making it impossible for some to distinguish between what is true or a lie.
Buzzfeed reported that “Viral Fake Election News Outperformed Real News on Facebook in Final Months of the US Election.” The Buzzfeed article stated that during the months of the presidential campaign there were 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs which generated 8,711,000 shares and comments on Facebook.
Why everyone claims we are living in a post-truth society?
“Post truth” is the international word of the year, according to Oxford Dictionaries. The dictionary defines the adjective as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In 2016, the word’s use increased by 2,000% compared to 2015. The EU referendum and the US election were the two events that propelled the word’s extensive usage.
Post truth means after truth. But the way it’s used means the opposite of truth, and describes a time where truth is unimportant. The lies proliferated by the Trump and Brexit campaigns and the controversial news of “alt-right” websites, were some of the examples that show how truth matters very little now.
Newspapers and established media cower next to the power of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Social media represent the cheapest and most effective way to reach millions of readers and the UK Leave and US Trump campaigns took advantage of this new tool. By targeting specific audiences and using outrageous claims, both the Brexiteers and Trumpists propagated their preposterous ideas while attracting increasing attention. By the time, journalists would have caught their lies and the campaigners would have had to disclaim them—or simply, as Trump would usually exclaim, “I didn’t say that!”—the falsifiers would have spread doubt or convinced their audience.
Maybe, we are to blame
There are many of us who are a bit childish. We enjoy reading “easy”, “non-complex” news that confirm our beliefs. We enjoy reading it from social media, easily available one click away. But, written and edited by anyone, such posts are marred in falsehoods and misinformation.
We also don’t enjoy people or media challenging our views, because we take comfort in reading news that “tell it how it is,” or rather, how we want it to be. So, when Facebook and Twitter mirror our ideas, we press “Like” and “Share.” We don’t believe in numbers or facts, but sometimes we choose to believe in easy solutions spoon fed to us by demagogues who promise to solve all our problems. This gives us great strength, because politicians don’t usually tell us nice, reassuring stories, so we trust them when they do.
We want to feel that things will get better, so we take faith in those people who are “honest.” And we recognise this honesty from reality TV shows, cooking competitions and other shows, where people’s emotions, their little stories and appeals to our feelings, reassure us that they are authentic. In this new world order of Reality TV sensations and of celebrities-turning-presidents, it doesn’t matter whether you are talented, hard working or knowledgeable. What matters in the end is whether you are crying, emotional, and managing to give us a good heart-warming story. Something we can identify with.
We love big personalities, jokers and real people who make mistakes, even if, arguably, they “grope” here and there. We forgive them, because they display the same vulnerabilities like the rest of us.
They offer us something new to believe in, even if it’s a complete delusion. And this is what the Brexiteers and Trump did. The UK Leave campaign’s buses with the slogan “We send the EU £50 million a day, let’s fund our NHS instead,” or Trump’s claims that “Hillary Clinton invented ISIS” (ISIS existed before Secretary Clinton) or climate change is a hoax, are some of the false facts that deceived many UK and US voters.
More than 70% of Trump’s statements have been proven to be false, but he is still believed to be more “honest” than Hillary.
Real politics are hard
We find easy solutions attractive, because real politics and decisions are complex and difficult. Facts don’t appeal to our prejudices the way slogans and emotional messages do. We live in a world where truth appears to be irrelevant or inconvenient.
But this shouldn’t stop politicians of pushing truth to the surface, opening up freedom of speech and cultivating a society where truth, no matter how painful or risky it might be, is the only way to a democratic and equal world.
When real news isn’t reported
On Friday (18 Nov.), Trump’s lawyers and the Attorney General of New York settled an agreement on three civil cases against the president-elect regarding his Trump University. Trump agreed to pay 25 million dollars in restitution and fines. The Trump-owned university was allegedly run like a corporation, using sales tactics to attract its customers and making them pay thousands of dollars for “dubious courses.” According to The New Yorker, a former salesman for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, said: “Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
The New Yorker reported that the story didn’t even make the front news of big websites and newscasts.
Trump’s University scandal and his bankruptcies don’t prove anything, you say. They are either lies or just little mistakes, because he is a successful and truthful businessman.
You might think I made up all this, and, in the end of the day, why should you believe me?