I’ve been hearing the word “post-truth” quite a lot over the past two years and I’ve intentionally been avoiding to use it. It is mostly used about politics but it has become common in describing the world we live in today that is mostly driven by social media culture.
If I understand it correctly, and based on the Cambridge Dictionary, post-truth means a world in which what matters more is how people feel about something and whether or not it confirms their beliefs or not, as opposed to whatever it is being factual and true. You experience it everywhere, especially on social media.
“relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts,” - Cambridge Dictionary
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how fake news spread online and manage to affect people in real life over the past year. This has occupied my mind because things like propaganda, misinformation, lies, deception, and disinformation, have been around for as long as human beings have walked this planet.
So, what is it that makes it so easy (relatively speaking), for fake news that is spread through the web, especially social media, to be so convincing?
In thinking about this and investigating this you realize that it is not even the quality of the fake news that matters. Many fake news stories are riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes and some photoshopped photos and screenshots are so badly modified it is laughable. Yet, people consume this and still believe it, worse, they act on it.
Take the example of Zimbabwe’s “varakashi” - an online army of trolls rumored to be paid $80 a month to spread fake news and disrupt any online discussion criticising President Emerson Mnangagwa and his government. When you read some of their comments on Twitter and look at some of the screenshots they have planted in news articles it only takes you a few minutes, if you care about verifying the information you consume, to discover they are fake.
Therein lies the clue to why fake news, despite some being of questionable quality, spreads so quickly and is believable to some people: they don’t want to verify the information. Why would someone not be interested in verifying the information they’ve just consumed? Because, most probably, it aligns with their already established biases and belief systems. It reinforces what they have already believed to be true.
This, among many other reasons like who the messenger is, is one of the main reasons why fake news spreads so quickly and can convince so many people to act on it. It is worrying and it should worry you too. We are entering uncharted territory and I am slowly starting to understand how someone like Donald Trump can become a President despite lying repeatedly.
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