A post-truth world

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With “post-truth” being Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016, and numerous public debates involving this topic, it is important to explore whether it is just an overused buzzword with no gravity or an accurate depiction of the world’s political future.

The main reason for the growth of this idea stems from recent and somewhat novel political strategies, where it seems that one can promise whatever one wants, no matter whether it is simply impossible. In the UK the Leave campaign offered to give the NHS £350m a week, written on their campaign bus but it was utterly false.

A more globally impactful demonstration of post-truth is President Donald Trump. Now that he has been elected, a worrying number of the important points and policies in his campaign are unravelling: he promised to “drain the swamp” yet his newly appointed education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is also the daughter of Edgar Prince, a billionaire industrialist. Even Donald himself said: “When the powerful can get away with anything, because they have the money and the connections to rig the system, then the laws lose their moral authority”. By this logic, laws were at the risk of losing their moral authority the moment he was elected. In fact, he tells so many untruths that there are even fact-checking websites, scrutinising his rally transcripts and clearing up his misleading “stats” and “figures”.

However, the problem is that these tactics have worked — suggesting that we are, in fact, in a different era of truth. In addition, these tactics seem to be apparent, less obviously, in the media. For instance, a common aspect of social media sites is the tendency for “click-bait” — a way of gaining views or hits on a site without consequences. Once people have clicked, the sites get money. Perhaps this could be comparable to politics, in the sense that one can lie and mislead in order to gain attention, or even votes, and have a blissful lack of consequences as there is no incentive to fulfil one’s promises if one has already “won”.

Trump claims the BBC, among others, spreads fake news

In a similar vein, Trump and some of his supporters have themselves used the idea of “fake news”, and claimed that the media are conspiring against him and twisting his so easily malleable words. The question, however, is whether the news was ever genuine to begin with. One could argue that, however hard one tries, one can never find an unbiased news channel, journal or newspaper as they are all produced by human beings: human beings that instinctively judge and form opinions.

Although lies and untruths have been told throughout human history, we have now entered an era where, provided you have status or wealth, there is no punishment of it.