The Battle for Truth

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A serious discussion is going on at present in relation to fake news. Many people seem to be happy to accept any information, even if they know it might be false or only partly true. The internet and social media in particular are being named as the major culprits here.

The discussion about ‘truth’ is perhaps one of the most important issues of our time, but to begin to solve the problem we need to ask why this is happening and why we no longer seem to have faith in many of our institutions and the referees associated with them, such as science.

Over the last few decades, truth has been successfully undermined by our leaders, some of whom do not shy away from lying for their own political gain. Often they have been influenced (bought) by vested interests, and/or only motivated by short-term profit and personal greed. The same applies to large sections of the media – creating sensation through lies to sell more advertising. Our society, with its once highly regarded institutions, has allowed this to happen. The collision between corrupt politics, big business and journalism in particular affects those who are accustomed to obeying authority without question.

Technology is being used as a tool to trick people with a web of lies and half-truths. In a tribalised social media world, some groups only receive information from within their ‘tribe’, and with little or no exposure to other news and information sources. This applies not only to new media but to radio and TV as well, which has also become increasingly polarised. For people in some regions of the USA, public news only comes from their own tribalised media source, often led by shock jocks and alarmist religious groups. Technology is used by those who are concerned about the truth (and generally have the capacity and willingness to look out for the broader good of the people), but for as long as we don’t have the moral leadership from politicians, corporations and the media, it will be very difficult to win the battle for truth.

There are some issues such as those related to different cultural beliefs and customs that cannot be classified as absolute truth. Personal emotions and popular bias play a large part here. These can greatly influence people’s choices regarding the truth – or not – within the wildly polarised information that is available today. This has given rise to the emergence and increased popularity of the term ‘post-truth’ – to the extent that it has been chosen as the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016. It is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, further complicating how we establish ‘true or false’ in today’s world.

On the rational side, there are plenty of clear-cut true or false situations and it is here that people power should be used to shame those within politics, business and media into being truthful again. Not an easy thing to do, but with so much at stake it is worth putting up a fight. While I am not in favour of more regulation, we do perhaps need to start looking at content rules that are in place in relation to public broadcasting in order to make sure that social media is also abiding by these rules – again, not an easy thing to do, but the circumstances might necessitate dramatic action here.

Everything that is happening around us is taking place on our watch and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to solve this crisis before it is too late.

Technology is on our side as well and can be used by those who want a better world, but what is needed is a return to moral leadership in order to successfully neutralise those who are misusing technology for the fake news and populism that undermines our way of life and the values that we stand for.

Global Seven News

Paul Budde

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