Flickr photo by Jason Eppink

The Demands of an Era of Post Truth

By Matthew Williams

When I was 7 years old, I got caught and punished for lying about completing homework. I don’t remember what the homework was; I don’t remember what the punishment was, but ever since that day, the value of truth (and to an extent, singular, objective truth) has been glued to the core fiber of my existence. Some part of me believes that brutal honesty makes the world a better place.

Unfortunately, we live in an era where truth is all too difficult to find (and all the more difficult to find singular truth). Ratings and selling to an audience rules most press coverage. Personal comfort dictates how many people interpret what they hear, see, and read. (Harvard Business Review discusses the research.) Lies are perfectly acceptable and comfortable to people in their daily interactions, as long as their image and conscience are safe.

If we could accurately see the damage that personal comfort, image, selling to an audience, and to lies have caused us, we would call ourselves to the stand. But blame does not help anyone move forward, so we need another way to mitigate the effects of “post-truth culture.”

Though I wish the answer could be as simple as everyone agreeing to speak the truth for the rest of their lives, the number of people in this world make that course of action impractical. Though this practice can improve our relationships with others, it does not help us evaluate the truth value of what others tell us or what we hear in the news.

To process or find the real facts requires us to be aware of the bias of our news and take steps to not become trapped by fake news (which is henceforth rebranded as false information). When we consistently return to sources that confirm our own bias, we can easily start to ignore that bias. In an era where false information is a constant threat, it is necessary to read articles from sources with differing biases just to construct a full, comprehensive understanding of the events.

Make no mistake, the system works against you. If you are only reading one news source, you are bound to be missing a host of conflicting interpretations and ideas. And even if you do use a news aggregator (like Flipboard, which probably has one of the best algorithms out there for combating false information and filter bubbles), your news will begin to skew towards your views unless you remain vigilant about reading articles from sources on both sides of the aisle.

The world of constantly available and shared information that we live in today is not easy or ideal. It takes a lot of work on our part to make sure we are not victims of a system designed to constrict us to our echo chambers. Although truth may no longer be as simple as we would like it to be, the world has not yet made it unattainable, just harder to grasp.

Admittedly, the idea of lying may not be as distasteful to others as I find it, and the reputation of the news as a herald of truth may be lost for a few generations, but I refuse to believe that we have no chance of rebuilding a society in which we trust one another enough to be honest with each other, educate ourselves enough to identify the true news out there, and listen enough to reinstate compromise as a viable option to solving the issues we face.

If you are interested in checking the bias of your news source(s), AllSides provides a pretty good ratings system.  

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