Last December, in the section by cartoonist Joe Dator of The New Yorker newspaper, it was noted that if the reality is outside the political debate, politics has been left in the hands of demagogues and fanatics. Right now, when social networks allow the immediate dissemination of information, a situation is being created where people live in information bubbles. You go to the Internet to reinforce an existing opinion and not to form a new opinion. People visit news sites, blogs and Facebook versions to confirm their personal point of view by discussing it with people like themselves, which is now called the ‘echo chamber’.
The research firm BuzzFeed found that this past year political party news sites had more impact on social media than traditional news media. In fact, the creation of false and sensationalist partisan content has turned out to be a particular niche market exploited by a group of Macedonian teenagers whose fake news sites turned out to be very successful. They applied the ‘clickbait’ to the political arena and confirmation bias and the social networks did the rest.
It is likely that the surprise caused by Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote have given rise to all this debate about post-truth and fake news spread on social networks. And so political analysts have started to write about this new media lode. If the Oxford’s dictionary chose the term ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year for 2016, one might recall that for 2005 Stephen Colbert chose the term ‘truthiness’ to refer to the myths created by George W. Bush during his administration when he used his personal vision of reality and not facts and rationality as the basis of the principles by which he governed.
In fact, the use of lies as political arguments is nothing new. Hitler did the same thing in the early 1930s, and then Franco did it again in the 1940s and 1970s, as did Castro in Cuba for more than 50 years. Fortunately, our timely knowledge of these three well-known cases makes it easy for us to understand that lying has been the fundamental basis for defending dictators and psychopathic governments that have always existed.
According to the prestigious journal The Economist, Trump’s current behavior marks an important milestone in the emergence of what has been called post-truth politics, where it doesn’t matter whether what is said is true or not; it’s enough for statements to be perceived or felt to be true (to ‘feel true’). And so personal feelings are what’s important and not facts.
In Decemberof last year The Economist recalled Trump’s statements that in many US cities crimes had reached record highs, when the facts show that they have remained stable for the past 15 years. At the same time the journal mentioned that Trump was not the only current exponent of post-truth politics; it also occurred in England during the recent referendum campaign to decide whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. Supporters of the “yes” vote spread the idea that membership in the EU cost England $470,000 a week, that such an amount should be spent on public health, and that staying would bring an avalanche of immigrants because of the imminent admission of Turkey to the EU. Both pieces of information were false.
Although everyone knows about the age-old the use of lies in politics, the big difference between the lies of yesterday and today’s lies is that in the past lies were told to cover up a truth that they didn’t want to be made public, while that does not happen nowadays. Instead lies are put out there because they sound true or because it is believed that they are supposed to be the truth. The problem is that when there is so much difference between reality and what people believe, all sorts of conspiracy theories arise.
According to The Economist, in Europe the best current example of the use of lies would be Poland and its ultranationalist party now in power. Its leaders established the idea that the country’s post-communist leaders were colluding with former leaders to control Poland between them. But without doubt Russia is the most advanced in this type of politics along with North Korea. During the recent Ukrainian crisis, the official media declared that there were no Russian soldiers in that country even though there was very visible evidence that they were there. That is why some political analysts say that Putin’s policy can be summed up with the phrase ‘nothing is true and everything is possible’. Unlike the days of the USSR where whenever the government lied they tried to present evidence to back up the lies, now things are just said and ‘realities are created.’
According to Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in psychology, human beings really do not seek truth, but they perform an exercise in which they seek to avoid it. People tend to believe in the information to which they are exposed and seek to avoid the facts that force them to make their brains work harder. And in some cases confrontation with reality leads them to cling more to their false beliefs.
For The Economist, many of the social networks are not thought of as journalism, so people do not feel called to control the information circulating on the Internet. In fact, many have come to think that the era of objective journalism is over and that post-truth politics is here to stay for many years, and this can become a serious threat to the immediate future of democracy.