Commentary – Faking it

Tom Henihan
It appears that fake news was every bit as influential as real news in 2016. In fact, fake news dominated the actual news in November and December, which saw a bazaar, troubling and violent year close with a strange, inverted irony.

The principal beneficiary of this phenomenon was the Donald Trump presidential campaign. By all accounts except Trumps’, fake news played a substantial part in his becoming the next US president. Along with fake news, internet hacking by Russia also worked on behalf of Trump.

This seems fitting, as Donald Trump is the champion of blatant lies. He makes no effort to verify or defend his lies other than insisting his claims are true in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Trump has learned that if he resolves to never admit to a lie, he doesn’t have to be all that subtle about telling them in the first place. He has also realized that if enough people initially believe those lies they gain exponentially in currency and influence.

The pro Brexit campaign also gained from fear mongering and the dissemination of untruths. Consequently, fake news decisively influenced two political outcomes in Europe and in the US, outcomes historic in scope with repercussions that are likely to be precipitous and harmful especially in the US.

These two critical decisions, while ostensibly the outcomes of the democratic process are actually the result of a deliberately manipulated and misinformed electorate.

‘Post truth’ is how many commentators define this development. Obviously, lies always represent the absence of truth but they don’t signal the end of truth, unless we resort to euphemisms such as ‘post truth’ instead of identifying them by precise terms: lies, mendacity, deception, etc.

There is dangerous passivity in using the term post-truth, as it accepts a condition that is unacceptable and untenable. They might as well say that we live in a “post moral” or “post ethical” world, which is to say we live in chaos and anarchy.

We need the truth and here, I am not talking of abstract philosophical truth as much as verifiable facts. We need the unalterable, unembellished facts to inform our judgment, to gain a reliable grasp of the circumstances that affect our lives in order to make informed moral and practical choices.

Lies and politics are synonymous: deceit, deflection, circumlocution and every other Machiavellian device have been the stuff of politics for time immemorial. However, with the disruptive consequences of the Trump presidency and the Brexit vote, it is difficult to identify another time when lies have had such immediate and potentially far-reaching effect.

Like politics, much of what the media reports today aims to influence and persuade rather than dispassionately inform.

With online “reporting” overwhelming the veracity of genuine investigative journalism, the news comes off as hearsay, leaving ample space for revision and speculation until the truth of the matter is irretrievably lost. That loss can be detrimental because without the facts to rely on, an unenlightened society loses its cohesiveness and descends in a quandary of opposing factions.

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