A book, The Post-truth Era, by Ralph Keyes appeared in 2004, and in 2005 American comedian Stephen Colbert popularized an informal word relating to the same concept: truthiness, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’. Post-truth extends that notion from an isolated quality of particular assertions to a general characteristic of our age.
“Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.”
“But post-truth politics is more than just an invention of whingeing elites who have been outflanked. The term picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance. Once, the purpose of political lying was to create a false view of the world. The lies of men like Mr Trump do not work like that. They are not intended to convince the elites, whom their target voters neither trust nor like, but to reinforce prejudices.
“Feelings, not facts, are what matter in this sort of campaigning. Their opponents’ disbelief validates the us-versus-them mindset that outsider candidates thrive on. And if your opponents focus on trying to show your facts are wrong, they have to fight on the ground you have chosen.”
“Why are you defending her, Erin?” Baldwin’s Donald asks the network interviewer in the sketch. “Are you a lez with her? Because I’ve heard from a lot of people that you’re lezzing her?” “That doesn’t even make sense.” “It doesn’t matter, Erin, because I said it. And now half the country believes it.”
“A few days ago, at Barack Obama rally for Hillary, the crowd turned on a Trump fan in their midst. Obama being Obama, he asked them to hush. “You’ve got an older gentleman who is supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing,” said the Prez, the only possible criticism of that being the use of a double negative. That apart, he was entirely positive about the man’s perfect right to support Trump. “We live in a country that respects free speech … we got to respect our elders. Don’t boo. Vote. Don’t boo. Vote.””
All of this was filmed, of course. The truth of the incident was instantly available for anyone with internet access.
Later that day, however, Trump wove his bespoke take on it into the rich tapestry that was his stump speech. ”You have to go… and see what happened,“ he told a rally in Pennsylvania. ”[Obama] spent so much time screaming at a protester, and frankly it was a disgrace.” If not the Baldwin version’s “half of America”, many millions of Americans will have actively decided to believe this idiotic invention. It fits perfectly, after all, into the insane, Obama the Tyrant narrative that is such a central building block of the Breitbart alternative reality.”
“No one sharing the same postal code as their right mind could imagine Obama berating anyone in the way that Trump, that grandmaster of projection, has bullied protesters at his rallies. Yet although the lie was blatant and silly – and instantly exposable as such – there was no risk to him in telling it. Inhabitants of internet-created bubbles, where algorithms feed their prejudices and misconceptions with cosseting confirmations of whatever they have selected fit their bespoke truth, are axiomatically beyond the reach of fact. “
Mr. Trump appears not to care whether his words bear any relation to reality, so long as they fire up voters. PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, has rated more of his statements “pants-on-fire” lies than of any other candidate—for instance his assertion that “inner city crime is reaching record levels”, which plays on unfounded fears that crime rates are rising (see chart 1).
“Even after controlling for party identification, religion and age, there was a marked correlation with support for Mr Trump (see chart 2): 55% of voters who scored positively on our conspiracism index favoured him, compared with 45% of their less superstitious peers. These measures were not statistically significant predictors of support for Mitt Romney, the far more conventional Republican presidential candidate in 2012.”
But though Facebook and other social media can filter news according to whether it conforms with users’ expectations, they are a poor filter of what is true. Filippo Menczer and his team at Indiana University used data from Emergent, a now defunct website, to see whether there are differences in popularity between articles containing “misinformation” and those containing “reliable information”. They found that the distribution in which both types of articles were shared on Facebook are very similar (see chart 3). “In other words, there is no advantage in being correct,” says Mr Menczer.
“One problem might be that people treat news found at Facebook with the authority of news gleaned from publications generally, even though news found at Facebook more often resembles the news gleaned from conversations with friends and family. People might practice a sort of mental discounting when encountering new information in different settings; I am less inclined to fully trust a factoid passed along by a stranger at a bar than I would be to trust something reported in a major newspaper. Facebook could throw this sort of discounting off, and lead users to too readily accept “news” (which after all is appearing on a major media platform) which is only a little more informative than what one receives in an email forward.”
SOME OF FAKE STORIES POSTED AND SHARED ON FACEBOOK
“I think Trump is in the White House because of me,” Horner said. “His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything.”
During the campaign, several of Horner’s intentionally false pieces were picked up and shared on Twitter by members of Team Trump. In March, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, posted Horner’s story about an anti-Trump protester supposedly being paid $3,500 to protest at one of his rallies.
“I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump,” Horner said. “I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.”
“But when significant political players are willing to say things that flat-out are not true — and when they’re not slowed down by demonstrations of their claims’ falseness — then reporters who stick to he-said, she-said become accessories to deception.”
2016-ing: verb. To feel intense stress and helplessness as you watch everything inexplicably go horribly, horribly wrong around you.