the truth is out there somewhere

image of a magnifying glass over the word truth and the words lies appearing beneath the glass

Critical digital literacy should be embedded throughout the higher education experience. We all need effective ways to tell the difference between truth and lies, not just for ourselves but those around us. In 1970, Alvin Tofler called our information explosion the Third Wave, the next greatest social movement following the Agrarian and Industrial ages. What would he say if he could see us now – not waving but drowning in information overload!

Yet the quantity is the least of our problems. It’s the quality which matters. New genres have appeared, in particular since since Brexit and Trump.

Da da!


Post Truth and Fake Truth.

image of the word truth as a jigsaw with missing pieces

They sound similar but there’s a difference. Post truth, most often used in connection with politics, appeals to emotions rather than presenting factual evidence. With Post Truth, what is true is secondary to getting that emotional hit, appealing to the personal and turning it into political action. Fake Truth or False Truth is another way to describe spin. Also known as Fake News/False News, it describes not so much the misinformation but the spreading of it via social media. Like Chinese Whispers, the story changes, getting further away from the original sources, picking up more emotional overtones as it travels on through digital space and time.

black and white image of a pile of books demonstrating different genres

A genre is born when new ways to structure and present information are created. Genres can be different styles of creative writing such as the thriller, detective or horror novel or it can be categories and styles of non-fiction news. Today we have what could be called genres of lies; deliberately false information masquerading as truth with the sole purpose of persuasion.

George Monbiot writes about the misinformation machines. He claims huge amounts of money are spent on setting up international and corporate think-tanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Their objective is swaying the hearts and minds of the electorate over big issues like immigration, employment and climate change. (Monbiot also refers to Trump and hyporeality which sounds to me ike Baurillard’s hyperreality nightmare come true – I think this may be is next week’s topic sorted!)

Falsity is not new. The internet has always been full of lies as has the world of advertising. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Edward Bernays applied the psychoanalytic ideas of his Uncle Siggy to persuade young women to smoke and increase the popularity of the colour green. His techniques were called Public Relations or Propaganda, depending if you were on stage controlling the show or in the audience watching it. Century of the Self by the brilliant documentary film maker Adam Curtis tells how America learned to take control of its population. Using archive footage, he tells the story of how Bernays, nephew to Sigmund Freud, laid the foundations of mental manipulation by the media, showing how ‘desire’ was created and blurred boundaries between truths and lies were established.

Control of the media equates with control of the people. George Orwell portrayed this as ‘Big Brother‘ in the novel 1984 and showed how deliberately  vague or meaningless language was used to conceal the truth in his essay Politics of the English Language.  In Understanding Media The Extensions of Man, (1964) Marshall McLuhan predicted the medium as well as the message would influence attitudes and behaviors while Neil Postman claimed we would be Amusing Ourselves to Death (1984) as the platforms of the public sphere were taken over by cable tv’s multiple channels leaving no place for discussion and critique of political discourse.

Were these writers prescient? Do we recognise the world they predicted?

digital divide with a page and an ipad

Early founders of the internet claimed it was a tool for social democracy because it offered equal access to information. Instead we have digital exclusion as the new but invisible category of social and economic discrimination. The development of user generated content via sites like Facebook and Twitter was hailed as a tool for the revolution, giving voice to minority groups and bestowing powers of resistance and subversion. Instead, we have a mess.

image showing social media logos from pixabay

For vast swathes of the population, social media has become the single source of truth. Mobile digital media supports speed swapping of news, presented in soundbites and video clips. Adjective heavy headlines and sensational straplines frame news stories telling the reader how to emotionally approach them. Reality TV confuses truth and fiction, magazine industries are built on ‘true’ confessions while multi-channel news is invaded by false news stories. As well as Monbiot, this weeks’ Guardian also has Roy Greenslade on Post Truth and the art of lies citing Barack Obama and his observation the morning after the US election that how the ‘new media ecosystem‘ of social media means ‘everything is true and nothing is true‘.

It seems this is the week for talking about truth.

But of course, after reading all this, you may not believe a single word I have said.

5 thoughts on “the truth is out there somewhere

  1. There are no truths, only perspectives of.

    Even when we see something with our own eyes, we only see it from our own stand point. So we could never articulate the whole truth.
    If the internet and especially social networks has done anything, it has the ability to have every perspective of a situation represented. But still people will only read or share what represents their views, bit like choosing what news paper to read, or what channel to watch.
    People have always shared info, albeit in the way of gossip, “did you see that article in the sun………….?” etc.
    If you have an inquiring mind you would always research what you read or heard, which would give you an opportunity to find some common ground between stories and maybe a clearer picture of events,the internet has made this significantly easier. However, you still have to research areas that make you feel uncomfortable for this to be effective, something humans do not like doing. I have been to talks given by academics that only present one side of an argument, the side they want presented. Dismissing other areas that goes against their view. When talking about the states ability to look after other peoples children. Some will present the positive aspects, some the negative, none discuss both.

    Ultimately, the internet has allowed us to know more about our world and force situations to become main stream even when our traditional media sources are not covering the story. I will use Standing Rock as an example, as it is only through internet and social media that we even that it is happening. The video’d footage, taken on smart phones, shows us what is happening as it happens. This has to be a positive aspect of uncensored reporting.
    And we must therefore ask ourselves, could adding algorithms be used to once again suppress what we don’t want the world to know?

    As for the American election and Trump. One question has not been asked, and I feel it should have been. We can rip everything apart and blame the level of mercury in fish for the reason behind Donald Trumps election to President Elect, if we wanted. I am pretty sure we could find some medical evidence, from credible research universities and medical centres, which would prove Mercury’s effect on the brain adding support to our theory. But this would possibly be no nearer the truth than blaming the internet is.
    So to my question regarding the US Elections. If their is free and unedited access to information on the internet. How come Bernie Sanders was excluded from both social media and traditional media? He is a popular candidate, gaining a lead with voters until he was pushed out of the limelight.
    How was this information suppressed?

    Maybe the internet has not changed a thing, except perhaps our perception of what is happening because we can now see it.


    1. I would agree with multiple perspectives Sarah. Also the internet may not have changed what has always been happening under the surface but I feel it makes even more of it possible. Its good to critically think about these issues – and encourage others to do the same.


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