There was Brexit, there’s a new face in the White House and with the French election in the not too distant future there are many people who are struggling to believe that this is the new reality. I feel some sympathy and that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the atmosphere that has been created around the reliability of information being published in the various media. This has prompted me to start thinking about the concepts of fake news, post-truth and fiction.
Fake news is such a bizarre concept that I struggle to come to terms with it. Throughout history propaganda has existed with the intention of convincing the public that a situation is either much better or worse than it actually is. The purpose has always been simple, to obtain or retain power. How is propaganda different from fake news? In principle not at all, the crucial difference is what it is and where it is. Fake news is a variety of propaganda appearing in the most concerning of places: newspapers, news channels, radio broadcasts, online journalism. Admittedly news agencies have always been liable to a biased interpretation of events based upon their editorial slant, but for the most part the facts themselves were reliable. Fake news strays so far beyond mere interpretive differences and amounts to wholesale manufacturing of stories to distort the perception of a person or issue. Blogs, vlogs, and opinion editorials have generally been understood to be a little further from hard facts and as such readers, viewers or listeners are likely to be more suspicious of what they are being asked to accept. When it comes to news articles or reports we are in new territory.
We are said to now exist in a post-truth age where the truth is not the evidence of empirical facts, but instead what a person or group of people believe. This is the inevitable by-product of post-modernism and if anything the rejection of meaningfully quantifiable truth seems to have taken a mercifully long time in absorbing consciousness. The internet can very easily become an echo chamber for ideas due to the freedom to publish, and create a space for like minded people to express their version of the world. It’s dangerous. It is easier than ever to convince yourself of something due to the repetition of hearing it and the impossibility to fact check everything when even the references could be unreliable. As much as I am prepared to concede in all manner of social politics a reinterpretation of history and society is not only justifiable and necessary there remains the vital importance of what is actual real. Hard data does not lie, if only it can be located, but at this point in time even that is being rejected as a power construct. The presence of opinions at the end of news articles online or on television alarms me. If there is an expert in the studio who has studied the issue and done the research legwork then the opinion of @StokeJohn5 (just a random typing of words and with apologies if such a Twitter handle exists) is not worthy of getting the final word which will ultimately colour any interpretation of what has just been said.
Weirdly fiction seems to be my most trusted place to find information. At least in fiction it is an honest lie; indeed one perspective I recall goes something like “politicians use the truth to tell lies, but fiction writers use lies to tell the truth.” I’m really rather comfortable with that.