Blog regulars would be forgiven for thinking I am planning a feature on all the words that featured in the 2016 Oxford Dictionary ‘words of the year’ list. My last blog focused on the runner up, Hygge and now a piece on the winner, Post Truth. Rest assured I’ll stop after this one, although I am interested in the concept of ‘glass cliff’, which was also on the shortlist, maybe another time…
Post Truth, last year’s winning word, is said to be the act of cherry-picking data and coming to whatever conclusion you desire, very timely as we are said to be in a post-truth age. The word topped the chart even before the explosion of news and political debate about what it means to be economical with the truth, peddle lies, or falsehoods. ‘Fake News’, ‘Alternative Facts’ have all since entered our lexicon and have dominated world news since the inauguration of President Trump.
Political debate aside, the issue of news, facts and how and where you find them has been brought into stark relief. When looking for news, who can be trusted to give the facts without embellishments, omissions or blatant lies?
The changing face of the world’s media means that news sources are now many and varied. Declining newspaper sales show that fewer people are getting their news from traditional printed press with a growing number using 140 character posts on Twitter, or other social media outlets as their major news source.
Call me old fashioned, but there was a certain security and familiarity with old style newspapers. Traditional media had their political colours nailed to their mastheads and people recognised, if not the bias, then their political allegiances – unfortunately this is not so clear when the news is embedded into a Tweet, a Facebook story, or even a Snapchat sponsored story.
It is alarming that people get the bulk of their news from social media yet are not aware of its origins. In a recent poll conducted for Channel 4 News, it also emerged that people surveyed were unable to distinguish Real from Fake News.
To be well informed it is crucial to seek out news and information from a variety of different sources. This allows us to build a healthy understanding of current affairs, national and international news and formulate our own views and opinions on the issues of the day, but it is critical that we are discerning, that we check the facts and that we consider our sources.
Students of GCSE and A level History will be well versed in considering data sources and how bias may prejudice, or colour the facts. Post Truth has been at play for centuries – that’s why when teaching History, one of the key things students must learn is to check the source and origins of historical materials.
With increasing access to immediate online ‘news’ – we all need to apply the same principles when news and information gathering as we would if we were studying for an A Level in History.
Now that Wikipedia is the first port of call for any research and Google is the first step in fact finding, we need to be careful that we know our sources and are assured that they are reliable. Who is publishing the piece, what is their agenda and is it a reputable and reliable source? It is crucial that we all learn how to verify the facts.
This debate has dominated the headlines since the US presidential election – over the span of the last three months, Fake News has gone from meaning incorrect, made up stories, to Donald Trump’s redefinition which critics say is news he doesn’t like from a media he doesn’t trust.
Concern is mounting internationally that the spread of Fake News could crowd out real news from legitimate sources and at its most extreme could undermine democracy. Some pundits believe that its pernicious spread influenced the outcome of the American elections. It is known that during the presidential elections, the level of sharing fake news stories surpassed legitimate ones.
Facebook was berated before, during and after the elections for failing to prevent the republishing of false information and the spread of “fake news”. In France, to prevent this happening during their elections, efforts have begun to make social media accountable for its content. Journalists are teaming up with the social media giants, Facebook and Google to introduce a new fact checking service and are sharing tools to help readers assess the reliability of online information.
Here in the UK, a cross party commons committee is charged with looking into the issue with calls for social media providers to take greater responsibility and make them accountable for the ‘content’ of news feeds.
Among the measures under consideration is a kitemark system that would be instantly recognisable by the public as an authentic and verifiable news source.
At the moment, Facebook and Google don’t have tools to sort real from fake – neither do we, so we must all exercise judgement and double check the facts.
Fake news, or Post Truth didn’t get anyone elected or sway the outcome of a referendum vote, but it can and possibly did heavily influence people’s views.