Post-Truth in the Age of Information

 

Post-truth: “the circumstance in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” (Oxford English Dictionary


Post-truth is a word that describes habits we’ve long had, doesn’t it? History students everywhere will study the propaganda of regimes long gone and find evidence of appeals to emotion winning over fact time and time again. To give one example, native peoples the world over were dehumanised as savages by colonisers with very few questions asked because it more easily served to justify actions that definitely should have been called into question by objective fact and study (not to mention human decency and morality).

The thing is, this current trend of expert-hating and fact-ignoring exists in a world where information is, in theory, instantly accessible. It’s not hard to find things out nowadays; thank you very much Internet. It’s not difficult to identify what you don’t know and look it up. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the age of information is faster than we are. The issue is that the information is bogged down in reams and reams and reams of other stuff. 

Many of us think nothing of “google-ing it” during a heated debate in the pub. Wikipedia has become a source of quick information for many people. And that is brilliant. A lot of the time the information you get there is correct. Desperate to know the origin of the Pork Pie? Not sure what the capital of Namibia is? Wondering how an aeroplane stays in the air? A quick tap, tap, tap, enter and you’ve got the information. (FYI, pork pies come from Melton Mowbray, Windhoek is the Namibian capital, and planes stay in the air because of something to do with the way air moves over the wings at speed..!)

It is amazing how quickly we can know things, how quickly we can access information that helps us understand the world through algorithms and technology.

But humans are not technology. Humans are emotional beings who naturally develop personal beliefs. It’s what helps to make us empathetic and caring. The trouble is, when coupled with the age of information, these emotional heart strings are vulnerable to outside tuning if we don’t do enough to protect ourselves from being manipulated. There are now more and more places where our opinions can be shared. More and more people have access to us, and we have more and more access to others. When we don’t understand how to properly deal with this situation, we are ill-protected against manipulation.

Therefore, we have to learn how to balance our natural human instincts and feelings with careful consideration of the facts and truth. It’s the only way to avoid being sucked into a truth void in the post-truth age. Since search engines don’t filter information by reliability, we have to ensure that we know how to question knowledge and how to evaluate it.

Then there’s social media. Facebook has become a major source of news for people, as individuals share breaking news or articles they claim to have read. This is fine until you remember that your Facebook friends are your tiny bubble of a community rather than experts in world affairs. People can sprout whatever world view they want and feel vindicated in doing so if they share a webpage with a shocking or humorous title that seems to back them up. There is, however, no more legitimacy in sharing a link than there is in being down the pub and quoting your mate from the golf club. And yet there is a tendency to take everything we read on the blue and white pages as gospel. We have access to the world views of millions, but we still only really pay attention to our own self-selected group.

With this in mind, it’s fair to say that critical thinking has never been more important. The more we have access to information from so many sources, the more we need to question these sources. The more we interact with other humans via social media and spend time listening to the opinions of lots of people who we’ve never even met, the more we have to call into question the impact these opinions are having on us and the more we have to make sure that the people to whom we listen, the people who shape our mindset, are reliable.

It’s not clear to what extend post-truth is just the trend of the time or if it is really here to stay. It is true that the power of the Internet is getting stronger and the need for critical thinking has never been more important. Finding the balance between using this wonderful abundance of information to check our facts and information and knowing when to switch off, disconnect and just think about it has become the biggest challenge to redefining the post-truth information age.


Source: English Oxford Living Dictionaries.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford, 2016, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth.

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