What kind of world would it be if truth were a sometime thing? If truth between husband and wife, between parent and child, between employer and employee, between teacher and student, between seller and buyer or between government and the governed was fungible? What would our lives be like if we suddenly found that untruths were as plentiful as truths in these relationships? How would we know how to tell one from the other? How could we make decisions when the “truths” on which they are based may in fact be untruths? How would we trust anyone or anything? Who would we believe, what would we believe? To make things a little more nightmarish, how about if many found that they could achieve their goals more easily if they lied? How about if lying got to be financially profitable? Finally, how about if there was a mechanism for lying that could help you maintain complete anonymity while sustaining profitability? Welcome to the internet and the world of fake news.
The radio has for a long time been home to an array of conspiracy theorists and extreme pundits of all leanings. While their rhetoric is often extreme and baseless, their identity is always in plain view and at times they have been forced to defend some of their more outlandish statements. Politicians have always been accused of bending and sometimes breaking the truth. But fact checking services have made it more difficult to sustain a position based on untruths for long. This would all be reassuring if the audience being targeted were knowledgable enough about the issues or concerned enough about the veracity of the rhetoric to care. However, the rhetoric during both the just-completed primary season and general election was met with a distinct lack of concern for truth. Even when challenged by the media with undeniable, incontrovertible facts to the contrary, there seemed to be little inclination by the targeted groups to change their view. Welcome to our new world where form is more important than fact, where style is more important than substance.
The internet is a long and winding road. The internet’s travels are infinite as it wraps itself around the world. It visits highly secret sites in government and business throughout its meanderings. There are an increasing number of individuals around the world who have developed the skills necessary to enable them to take souvenirs from one place and expose them in other places. Sometimes this information is exceedingly damaging to business and governments and even election campaigns. The internet does not discriminate between truths and untruths. It does not discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate use of information. It is just a road. It is up to the traveler to determine the route and what tidbits to share with the world. These travelers, hackers, may be commissioned by businesses, nation-states or terrorists groups. Cyberwar is a new frontier and doesn’t care much about truth.
The common thread in our “brave new world”, is that truth is being manipulated and used as a commodity. We are being blasted with an enormous array of information through all forms media, yet we are provided with no guidelines to tell the truth from the untruth. We are being accosted by governments, businesses and interest groups who want very much for us to believe their truth. The problem is that we don’t know if their truth is, in fact,the truth.
The only way for us to remain knowledgable and able to discern fact from fiction, truth from untruth is to go to the source. We can’t just take an article at face value, we must check the author, the sources and the veracity and reputation of the publication. As responsible caretakers of the future we must go this extra mile. It is the only way we will know the truth. During the months and years ahead we are going to be asked to make some very difficult decisions. Those in power are banking on the fact that we will be ill-informed and disengaged. We must all be informed enough to speak truth to power and challenge the lies as we confront that power.