2016, what the hell happened? It all started out so full of hope, as every new year does. Back in January, Trump was just a bad joke. No one thought he would get the GOP. Brexit was something a lot of Westerners hadn’t even heard of, let alone took seriously. Yet the referendum happened, and Great Britain is set to separate from the European Union by the end of 2018. Trump became president of the United States of America. A collective murmur of disapproval rang out across the other developed countries of world.
Post Truth. A term defined by Oxford Dictionary as, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The term was first coined in 1992 by a Serbian-American playwright, named Steve Tesich, who claimed humans are actively choosing to live in a world where fiction rules over fact. It was dubbed by Oxford Dictionary as 2016’s word to the year due to a 2000% increase in its use since 2015.
Tesich may have been on to something. I can’t even take the pretentious high ground on this one. Every person that uses social media to refine and express their opinions are guilty of tendencies which encourage a post truth society. So, that makes pretty much everyone guilty of giving into the fallacies of the post-truth society, at least to some degree.
Facebook and Twitter are terrible for these sorts of things, as they have algorithms which are specifically tailored to suit your interests: they show you the posts you want to see. Whether it’s cat videos, politically loaded articles slamming the party which opposes your beliefs, or memes that may do both of those things, what you see is determined by what you like, retweet, or otherwise comment on. Basically, your social media newsfeed is one big, self-serving, groupthink.
If you don’t think there is a problem with that, then fine – just don’t form your opinions solely off what you see on Facebook – as it is full of secondary sources. It’s important to limit the use of secondary sources when forming an opinion of something. This is because you’re simply reading someone else’s interpretation of the information presented, which can then be prone to alterations of its original form by consequence. A good example of this is the dramatic increase in reports of sexual assault and rape in Sweden since 2005.
Now, depending on where you get your info, the reported cause of this can change drastically. If you happen to lean more right on the political spectrum, than you probably get your news from a site which shares the same views as you. One common trend right-wing news sites tend to point out is the increase of Islamic immigrants and refugees Europe has seen in the past ten years. While it has correlated positively with Sweden’s increase in rape and sexual assaults, the correlation is not actually causal, nor are they even linked by the same variable.
In 2005, Sweden, being a feminist and liberal country, reworked a lot of its laws surrounding sexual assault. It now has one of the most comprehensive definitions of rape in any of the developed countries of the world. Furthermore, the way in which Sweden collects statistical data concerning crime influences these numbers further. In Sweden, any act reported to the police is counted as a crime which has been committed, regardless of if the alleged perpetrator was convicted and sentenced in the end. These two factors serve as an alternate explanation of this phenomenon.
This just shows that the source of your information can say a lot about the truth (or lack of) of a claim. A lot of news outlets and world leaders take advantage of peoples laziness when it comes to doing research. Facts are a hell of a lot less important when your family and friends may be ‘at risk’ of rape, or acts of violence perpetuated by invading minorities. This is a common fallacy humans are prone to engaging in, known as the appeal to emotion. Emotions are something we use heavily when making decisions.
This can be both a good, and a bad thing. It certainly helps when it comes to raising children, and keeping them out of harms way. Aside from the evolutionary benefit, however, it also clouds our judgement. When you act out of fear, you often act without much thought – fight or flight. This becomes problematic when it comes down to making decisions of the political nature, such as elcting a leader for the wrong reasons, or even reasons that don’t make very much sense when you take the time to look at the facts.
Politicians have long recognized the importance of fear when it comes to securing votes and elections. Brexit and the 2016 US election were rife with grandiose, fear-inciting statements. Brexiteers played on the UK’s hatred of immigrants: for stealing jobs and promoting extremism alongside terrorism. They emphasized the costs of the EU, and claimed these costs were a burden on the British people. It didn’t matter if these things where false, or drastically overexaggerated (one thing I like to point out when people talk about the plague of terrorism in Europe is that the number of deaths relating to terrorism have been dropping consistently for the past two decades). The Brexit campaign targeted largely the rural, the uneducated, and the elderly. And it worked.
Trump was a similar story, with mainly the rural, uneducated areas voting Republican on November 8th. And you’re all probably aware of the driving forces behind his campaign. We can’t even be mad; this is our fault. We have been systematically ruining civilized discourse with the personalization of our opinions, making dialectics nearly impossible if someone has an opinion which is even slightly different than ours. You believe in abortion? How about I call you a Satan worshiper and picket your business. You think Clinton is a fraud? You’re probably a misogynist.
It’s stuff like this that creates rifts between society, and makes it impossible to objectively choose civil leaders. When we encourage the extreme, polarizing, personal opinions most have, we limit the platform in which people can educate themselves about the other side of the argument. This leads to things like Post-Truth being word of the year.