In Our Post-Fact World, Speak Out—Lives Depend on It

Photo by Tom Laffay

by Karen Heredia

In the weeks since Trump’s election here in the United States, it’s become clear that his upset win stands as yet another example of a global wave of so-called populist politics. In the US, this populism has been largely defined and driven by a combination of white supremacy, xenophobia, and misogyny — all embraced by the “alt-right” movement — as well as by longstanding economic resentment among populations who have suffered from the policies and practices of globalization. From Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, to the rise of anti-immigrant, anti-social change populist politicians and parties throughout Europe, and the defeat of the Colombian peace deal largely attributed to ex-President Alvaro Uribe’s conservative populist movement, we’re seeing the rise of radical-right politicians around the world.

Complicating matters, there’s been a shift in media culture away from news organizations with dedicated fact-checking departments and towards media corporations that tailor their content to politically hued consumer audiences. This, combined with social media and new mobile technologies, which act as direct-to-consumer marketing tools for politicians, conspiracy theorists, and fake news sites alike, has created a “post-fact” world — enabling people to “opt out” of facts they don’t like or disagree with.

Radical-right politicians like Trump, Uribe, Britain’s Boris Johnson, or France’s Marine Le Pen are master manipulators of the weaknesses of the post-fact media landscape, using social media to stoke populist fears and bigotry, and supporting their claims by spreading misinformation. In Colombia, the organized campaign against the peace deal between the government and the FARC — a “No” campaign led by Uribe — took to social media, advertising, and media outlets with misinterpretations, rumors, and lies to promote anger and fear among voters. Though a new peace accord was finally reached in November, the journey was long and arduous.

As radical-right politicians around the world increasingly take advantage of the post-fact landscape to advance their anti-social change agendas, already vulnerable communities are being placed in even greater danger, and with them, the human rights defenders that work to protect all of our basic rights. In Latin America, especially, the number of murders, attacks, and acts of repression against human rights activists are at historic levels, according to a report entitled “El Riesgo de Defender,” published in October by Oxfam.

In the face of increasing physical risk and reports of violence against human rights activists and the communities they defend, it’s become more important than ever to read between the lines of political rhetoric in search of the truth.

Words That Kill

In honor of Human Rights Day on Saturday December 10, 2016, N-Map is launching the entire Words That Kill: The Defamation of Human Rights Defenders video series, which shows the shared experience of defenders in Colombia who have suffered defamatory attacks by the government, and in the media for their work. The series was a joint effort between the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, Corporación Jurídica Yira Castro, Comisión Intereclesial Justicia y Paz, Bertha Foundation, and New Media Advocacy Project.

Though the series focuses on human rights defenders in Colombia, the message applies to audiences everywhere: In a post-fact world, where corrupt officials regularly manipulate the media to sway public opinion, it is more more important than ever to defend the people seeking to uphold our basic human rights. Verbal attacks in congress, false information in the press, and threatening messages on social media can translate very quickly into real life threats for human rights defenders and the people they represent. Please take a moment to watch the series and share.

Don’t let attacks against human rights and human rights defenders go unchecked. Speak out. Your support makes a difference.

For the Spanish version of this post, go here.