The double think of 'fake-news': Has truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist?
What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening - Donald Trump.
Speaking about George Orwell's book 1984, Dorian Lynskey, in Ministry of Truth says , "By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four".
With the state of our modern western world and politics, I have for the first time like many, started to read 1984.
'Doublethink' abounds today.
Things are not as Orwell predicted for:
"The state of mind that the Party enforces through terror in 1984, where truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist, we now induce in ourselves. Totalitarian propaganda unifies control over all information until reality is what the Party says it is—the goal of Newspeak is to impoverish language so that politically incorrect thoughts are no longer possible." Atlantic Magazine, July 2019.
But instead, we now face this:
"Today the problem is too much information from too many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation and division—not excessive authority but its disappearance, which leaves ordinary people to work out the facts for themselves, at the mercy of their own prejudices and delusions." Atlantic Magazine, July 2019.
'Doublethink' abounds today. Doublethink is "The act of holding, simultaneously, two opposite, individually exclusive ideas or opinions and believing in both simultaneously and absolutely. Doublethink requires using logic against logic or suspending disbelief in the contradiction. In 1984 for example, the three slogans of the party — "War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength" — are obvious examples of doublethink.
We have met Big Brother and he is us
We now have our own doublethink of 'alternative facts' and the 'fake news' to propagate some of the worst fake news. Our Ministry of Truth is "Facebook, Google, and cable news. We have met Big Brother and he is us." (again The Atlantic, July 2019).
BTW what I write here is not a claim that politicians lie, they always have and it is a mode of political life demonstrated in history. Indeed It was Cicero who over 2,000 years ago commented on the lying of politicians, with the scathing assessment that “Politicians are not born; they are excreted.” Not a sentiment I share, but it shows disband in the face of political lying has been present for a long time.
But we are however at a new juncture with a volume of lies, policed not by the state but by ourselves with our social media bubbles. That is new by nature, volume and impact.
Problems of the internet
So in our social media bubbles, with fake news paid for by Russian troll farms, and other nefarious groups, how do we check what is false and what is true, if we can be bothered to get beyond the deep emotions and judgements our social media kindles in us?
‘One of the greatest dangers of the internet, noted by Daniel Kahneman in his valuable book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), arises from the fact that “people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers”…the trouble is that any belief – any prejudice or hatred – can now find a large supporting community on the internet.’ The Guardian, August 2017.
Indeed the internet is now a source of big data, hard data on what we search for, to reveal what we really believe and think. For example Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, found that ‘Data from Prosper, a peer-to-peer loan website, showed that there are five expressions in particular that one should beware of when reviewing applications for loans: “God”, “promise”, “will pay”, “hospital” and “thank you”. Making promises “is a sure sign that someone will … not do something”. “God” is particularly bad news.”
Red Herrings and Some help from the internet
There is a helpful resource, http://fullfact.org. Of course, you can play identity politics and dismiss even this as 'fake news' without ever looking at it, i.e you fear if it will tell you something that doesn't correlate with your social media bubble, so even this endeavour must be fake.
So let’s take fullfact for spin, to sift the wheat from the chaff of truth as an example. The likely next prime minster of the UK, Boris Johson derided the EU last week, for imposing onerous regulations on kipper sellers, forcing them to package their kippers in ice. Leaving the EU he claimed would mean freedom from this example of EU control. BTW I use this example not as any comment on Brexit no matter how much readers might want to do so as an act of identity politics - another bane of modern society. I use it as it was a very present example this past week of truth and politics in public debate. So in his own words:
“I want you to consider this kipper which has been presented to me just now by the editor of a national newspaper who received it from a kipper smoker in the Isle of Man who is utterly furious because, after decades of sending kippers like this through the post, he has had his costs massively increased by Brussels bureaucrats who have insisted that each kipper must be accompanied by this, a plastic ice pillow .” Boris Johnson MP, 17 July 2019
However, see https://fullfact.org/…/boris-johnsons-kipper-claim-red-her…/ and you find that this is incorrect. The EU does not set any requirements on the temperature at which smoked fish must be transported. The temperature requirement is UK regulation. Indeed if you think fullfact.org is wrong, a simple internet search reveals the truth. Perhaps this is an example of an 'alternative fact'.
Time for a revolution?
I do feel at times a sense of dislocation, that I am in a lucid dream with a dystopian parallel world in which the truth has been completely abandoned. To quote Donald Trump I do indeed feel as if ''What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening'. How can it be happening, where truth is so utterly abandoned?
So in order to try to wake up, I will take the time to carefully review fullfact.org and cross-reference that with other verifiable sources the claims of politicians and those pumped into my social media feeds by others.
Perhaps as George Orwell may have said,
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Here's to a revolution.