The Post-Truth Era Is Here

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2016-11-10 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Post-Truth Era

We've arrived at the post-truth era. Even with Snopes, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and other sites debunking false information, it flourishes like never before.

Regardless of which candidate you supported for president or how you feel about the election results, an inescapable truth is that truth no longer matters.

Fact checking on presidential debates revealed that distortions, half-truths and pants-on-fire lying were rampant. Perhaps more from one candidate than the other, but nonetheless, rampant.

Here's the problem: The Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy recently reported that 81 percent of those polled believe that supporters of the two major candidates disagree on basic facts, in addition to policies and plans.

How have we arrived at this place? For one thing, there's just way too much information floating around today. For another, that information is easily abused and manipulated. Most people now graze at the news buffet of their choice and live inside a Facebook feed tunnel with their "friends." They only view what affirms their beliefs, and they are constantly reaffirmed by friends.

Consequently, parallel "information universes" now exist.

A couple of decades ago, at the dawn of the public internet, authors and social observers waxed poetic about how technology would democratize populations and people, and lead to a new and unparalleled level of insight and knowledge. Phone cameras and videos were supposed to record events and present clear proof of what transpired.

Instead, the internet is rife with hoaxes, half-truths, distortions, complete lies and utter nonsense, including doctored photos and videos. Birthers, Truthers, conspiracy theorists and other fringe groups now serve up heaping doses of off-the-grid ideas that have just enough plausibility to possibly be true—at least to those inclined to believe them. As a result, these stories and memes rocket around the world at internet speed and creep into the mainstream.

Yes, all of this has existed in some form or another throughout history. And, yes, there has always been a war over information and misinformation. But most of this—at least over the past century—occurred on the margins of society, not in the mainstream.

The sobering reality is that society's ability to distinguish truth from fiction is on the decline.

Recently, researchers at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, in Italy, found that homogeneous online networks actually help conspiracy theories persist and grow online. "This creates an ecosystem in which the truth value of the information doesn't matter," one of the study's authors noted. "All that matters is whether the information fits in your narrative."

Yes, we have arrived at the post-truth era. Even with Snopes, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and other sites attempting to debunk false information, it flourishes like never before—and it increasingly shapes not only how we vote, but how we view the world.



 
 
 
 
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
 
 
 
 
 
 

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