How is the Post-Truth Era transforming global sentiments?
Last we year we ended a tumultuous presidential election race unlike anything witnessed in American history. How will the American and global sentiments transform post-election?
As a trend analyst entering 2017, I reflect on the sentiments of 2016 and ask: What major shifts in terms of values and beliefs will shape the new year? What clues can online “chatter” give us about the future?
With a 2,000% increase in usage compared to 2015, “post-truth” has been declared by Oxford Dictionaries as its 2016 international Word of the Year due to the meme’s prevalence during the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election. Originating from the political sphere, the concept has quickly seeped into the socio-cultural consciousness. The term 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.” In simpler words, it’s a refusal of facts and conventional wisdom in favor of a social narrative.
Associated with anxieties, fantasies, and feelings rather than rational views of our chaotic world, the meme allows followers to find refuge in a reality of absolute subjectivity — a reality projected both internally and externally. Within this new reality, subjectivity is the primary standard of comprehension. Individuals begin to relate to one another and the world around them based on emotional measures rather than objective data.
It’s important though to note that the desire to construct narratives is nothing new — it is deeply rooted in human cognition. In fact, as humans, we are hardwired with certain evolutionary desires to indulge in fantasy and naivety. This coping mechanism simply allows us to reconcile complexity and our fears. Desires are psychological instincts that define intrinsic motivations, which in turn govern our rational and irrational thoughts. One hardwired desire that feeds the coping mechanism of post-truth is idealism: “an adherence to ideas that are often clean and untainted by the messiness of everyday life.” By ignoring challenges, it makes one’s life seemingly easier. So will an idealist narrative in 2017 continue to surge? In addition, how will other socio-cultural drivers shape the sentiments of the new year? As the new presidency has begun to unfold, we have already experienced a few instances of post-truth: Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” and fictional Bowling Green Massacre terrorist attack, Sean Spicer’s persistent portrayal of inauguration participation size, and President Donald Trump’s perpetual falsehoods of voter fraud and crime rates.
What really sets post-truth apart from what some call “the factual age” is its endless opportunities for individuals to bulletproof these realities. People have been conditioned by the affordances of new technologies, enabling them to mindlessly reject facts in favor of the social narrative. In short, emotion now overshadows data. The advent of fake news and the exploitation of clickbait monetization fuel a new industry that manufactures alternate realities by utilizing social media echo chambers and filter bubbles. This allows for a system which helps propagate the notion of post-truth’s absolute subjectivity. Whether it’s political controversy or conspiracy theories, there is always a source to help back up a claim. Emotional connections to the story have validity as long an explanation exists. We have entered an era where denial is normalized and the objective truth has become irrelevant. Will the near future be defined subjectively or objectively?
The propagation of post-truths may ultimately provide a peek into a new emerging social construct where leaders, institutions and brands become even more fluid and adaptable in order to appeal to the power of public emotions. Consumers’ definition of credibility has already started to shift in their reaction to this phenomenon. In 2016, a long list of corporate scandals simmered with no major lasting public repercussions: Facebook’s platform for fake news, Amazon’s counterfeit policy, Volkswagen’s diesel emission scandal, and more.
So what does it mean for brands, social experiences, and platforms? How is the definition of credibility changing for consumers? Are brands more vulnerable or resilient in a post-truth era? What sentiments will be most salient with consumers of the future? Will irreverence be core to the consumer and brand dialogue? We may soon find out as these sentiments evolve along the current global socio-political climate.
Kevin Liu is a trends analyst at LPK, where he lends his strategy and business background to make brands hip again. Outside the office, Kevin is a fitness enthusiast and spends way too much time on the internet, obsessing over meme culture. Send him dank memes at firstname.lastname@example.org / @itskevinliu.