The Convenient Truth
Post-truth. Post-fact. Fake news.
The more I see these Orwellian buzzwords, the more frustrated I get.
And not because the subjects are unimportant. Quite the opposite. I believe these are the biggest problems facing us — not only as a nation, but as a civilization. As Thomas Jefferson (you know, the bad guy from Hamilton) once said, “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
I get frustrated, though, the more I see these buzzwords, because we’ve turned a massive problem into clickbait headlines and unnecessary think pieces. The whole concept of fake news has been politicized. Media literacy is for the leftist elite. “Fake news” is just the democrats being sore losers.
And I get frustrated because these words imply that our biggest problem is the spread of misinformation. It is not. It is a symptom of a larger problem — a lack of trust.
- We have access to more information than ever. But rather than leading us to an age of enlightenment, we’ve siloed ourselves in echo chambers that feed us the convenient truth, and those sources become the only ones we trust. New media and technology have freed us from reliance on the mainstream media, to our collective detriment. “Consumers of alternative news, which are the users trying to avoid the mainstream media ‘mass-manipulation,’ are the most responsive to the injection of false claims.”
- Unfortunately, the trust problem probably isn’t going to get better any time soon. As the Economist points out, the anti-establishment cynicism and division of the trump campaign (and soon-to-be presidency) are strategic decisions, not side effects. While most of his poor policy decisions can be easily reversed, lower trust in American institutions — from the media, to academia, to Washington — cannot.
- So in what I consider a grand irony, NPR published an exhaustive guide to fact-checking the news. I consider it an irony because I can’t imagine a Venn Diagram where people who trust NPR are the same people who believe Obama is the leader of ISIS and Hillary Clinton is involved in a child sex-trafficking ring. While we could all benefit from the information, it’s unfortunate the only ones who will read it are those who already trust NPR and are predisposed to look out for fake news. After all, there are many who welcome it.
Fake news has always been a problem. Leaders have always tried to bend the facts to suit their agendas, and we have always wanted to believe the truth we find most convenient. The problem now is that when the inconvenient truth becomes public, those in power are not shamed by it. They spit fire and attack the media. They brand it a conspiracy. They call it a lie from the other side. And those who want to believe…believe.
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