Media & Technology

Tweet With Caution

Mollie Field will be exploring the problematic ‘Post-truth’ era in the contemporary, and will be briefly discussing the dominance of ‘Post-truth politics’ alike. In relation to the discussion of the evolving news media and the rise of user generated content and ‘Fake-News’.

Headlines of mainstream media in November of 2016 read; “Post-truth declared word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.” Next in line for the throne were, ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘Alt-right’. Previous candidates to the annual title, included ‘Emoji’, ‘Vape’ and ‘Selfie’. I can’t ignore the change of tone here. Although, this was last year, so can we consider if the word post-truth has lost its touch anyway? Perhaps a trend just like the predecessors before it. I would like to say, in this new year post-truth has lost its relevance, maybe it was just a fad and as a globe we are informed by facts and not fiction. Although, this as many will agree is not the case.

Our media environment is relentlessly politically charged, the controversial president Donald Trump is serving his first term in office, article Fifty and ‘Brexit’ have seen the green light, and the looming ‘threat’ of Russia still hangs shadow over the globe. I mean to add; this is just to name a few of the political highlights in the contemporary.

The world is moving fast and I can’t be the only one that feels desperately uninformed. Therefore, to my dismay the era of post-truth is still a dominant concept in the public sphere at present. It has, and continues, to shake the world of journalism and news media alike, never mind the political world and public opinion across the globe.

Although the word post-truth has existed for the last decade, a monumental rise in public discourse has been seen. Ralph Keyes, American author of “The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life” published in 2004, considered for the first time the dangers of Post-truth, he notes “Historically, Western society has shifted back and forth between tolerance and intolerance of lying”. The most accurate and concerning speculation made by Keyes is that, “Truth has been replaced by believability.” To visualise the rhetoric of what Keyes calls, “The re-utilization of dishonesty”, you don’t need to look much further than the defining post-truth political symbol of our time… “350 million a week”. The infamous post-truth number, branded on a ‘leave campaign’ bus in the midst of the European referendum may spring to mind here?

Continuing the theme of post-truth, I want to introduce briefly a hybrid, ‘post-truth politics’. Embodied by political campaigns throughout the West last year, deemed by many to be victorious due to feelings triumphing facts. The power of media narratives, in this sort of Post-truth hybrid is crucial. Narratives, that appeal to public emotion and anxieties. Anxieties that are played upon, at the expense of minorities. Minorities which construct the picture-perfect enemy and, sadly, last year the ‘enemy’ in the narrative suited well to immigrants. This can be seen in past western figures alike, “George W. Bush understood this perfectly. Wars need themes, he realised, such as Operation Iraq freedom.” Author, Joan Didion, renowned for her literary journalism understands that, “If a time comes when the country becomes dissatisfied… then the narrative must be adjusted.” Consider this in the contemporary context, the theme of immigration.

Now I’ve set the scene for the problematic nature of a post-truth climate in the West today, I want to highlight the complexities of news media and online forms that constribute to this overwhelming feeling of being uninformed, or rather misinformed. In the contemporary, the internet and its evolving platforms are becoming increasingly concerning in the circulation of global news.

News media is a defining characteristic of Western, and furthermore British identity; informed, educated, globalized. The news industry, an integral part of the mass media, has a multitude of growing and transforming platforms. This notion of news media, with its roots in print media, Broadsheet and Tabloid alike, is dominant in broadcast media today, the 24-hour news cycle is now a fundamental part of human consciousness across the globe. The rise of the internet, has allowed news to transform into online magazines, mobile applications and blogs, instantly being accessed by the tap of a finger.

News and therefore information, is now easier to access than ever before. The news media allows us a window into the world, and forms an integral part of our understanding of the globe and all its complexities, conflicts and tensions. This notion of a window into the world, is something that should be celebrated; digital natives are fortunate to have the freedom of information. Though, at present, a growing threat of the internet is imposed upon authentic, democratic and liberal forms of news media and therefore views and understanding. It is inevitable to consider the use of user generated content in the digital age that creates another dimension to the notion of post-truth. The concept of ‘fake-news’ has embodied a predominant danger to the practise of Journalism and news media in a rise bred through social media and hyper-partisan websites.

The power of social media and blogging, in constituting certain views and mind-sets, can be seen in clarity with the recent terrorist attack in Westminster (March 22nd 2017). The appropriation of an image, that circulated the internet, has highlighted how problematic user-generated content can be. The image, reflected on the outset a young female, dressed in a traditional hijab, walking past a victim injured on Westminster Bridge on the day of the attack. The female figure, is holding her mobile phone, and evidently looks distressed at what she has just witnessed. Although, online users mainly across social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook have appropriated the image as an anti-Muslimism ‘meme’. The framing of the image, has embodied the issues of Islamophobia around the globe today. ‘Fake News’ in another form was highlighted by the ‘Pizza Gate conspiracy theory’ that emerged during the 2016 presidential elections in America. A viral theory that insinuated the link of human trafficking and the Democratic Party elect, Hilary Clinton. The growth of the conspiracy through social media, motivated public action, resulting in a civilian to open fire at the restaurant linked to these claims, in a bid to self-investigate.

As increasing numbers seek online platforms such as social media to gain news fast and direct, the face of the digital age in the form of networking site Facebook, is being held reasonable through the mainstream media. Founder of Facebook, Mr Zuckerberg states, “We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously.”

The positive being, that the rise of fake-news is being considered a global problem, with social media sites, working to inform users as to how to protect themselves from false news, and furthermore bias and destructive ideals and ideologies. Additionally, governments alike are considering the implications, perhaps because of the uncharted nature of a private company such as Facebook having such immediate power.

The future of a post-truth world is an uncertain one, questions in the mainstream media are raised on democracy. “How can we have a functioning democracy when we cannot agree on the most basic facts?” states Johnathan Freedland of the Guardian. As the globe becomes more complex, the notion of being less informed is a dangerous one, we can’t change the voices of political figures, but we can be actively inquisitive. Considering the rise of ‘fake news’, and how strongly it not only motivates public action, but can influence certain concerning ideological views of xenophobia and hatred. The importance of using the web in all its greatness as a positive product of globalisation is more vital than ever.

My final note is not to fear, but to tweet with caution.