Conceptualizing “Facts” in the Current Political Landscape
An op-ed by Brooke Moore, LiKEN Research Assistant
Over the past century, news media has been in a continuous state of evolution, accelerated in recent years by the introduction of social media. With the public virtually drowning in information from social media, news now has to elicit feelings of excitement akin to those of soap operas in order to be deemed ‘breaking’. Modern society, in large part, relies on social media to be informed about current events, however more often than not the information is not factual reporting, but rather a manifestation of opinions lacking evidence. Verification has become obsolete within the white noise of the Internet where every second thousands of individuals espouse opinionated rhetoric disguised as ‘news’. Unfortunately, the deeming of statistical proof as nonessential has leaked into our political sphere.
‘Alternative Facts’ is a concept now quite familiar to those who keenly peruse the headlines. Speeches and facts are allowed to have the statistical validity of ‘word-of-mouth’ gossip. The recent debacle of Press Secretary Sean Spicer describing Trump’s inauguration crowd as the largest ‘ever witnessed’ stirred conflict amongst civilians due to its inaccuracy (Bradner 2017). When asked about this falsehood, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway responded that it was not a lie, but rather an ‘alternative fact’ (Bradner 2017). A government that sees facts not as black and white, but as a spectrum of truths creates a detachment between the public and ‘real news’. The consequence of this is either a society where “nobody believes anything any longer”, or a society that allows itself to slip into an unconscious state, separated from the truth and apathetic towards finding it (Grenier 2017).
The lenience towards sources such as tweets – or what under the Trump administration is a forum of policymaking – threatens many aspects of societal progress, such as international relations, social movements and environmental sustainability. United States’ citizens are now witnessing the nomination of environmental advisors who willingly avoid the truth to propagate their own objectives, which support fossil-fuel companies over environmental regulation. These advisors are able to do so, in part, because the truth has become so scarce. Differentiating the truth from lies has become as difficult as finding the ball in a shell game – influential people using trickery and confusion so the spectator no longer knows where the truth lies. The mainstreaming of alternative facts has created a society where people can base their careers on falsehoods, such as a member of the EPA who utilizes their power for environmental regression. To make a difference, people, particularly government officials, must be held accountable to the statements they claim to make as ‘truth’ and those who aim to report on evidence-based facts should not be name-called ‘fake news’.
For us as citizens what this means is that we should continue to hold those who perpetuate lies accountable, whether it be through social media, blogs or organizations. Furthermore, taking political action by attending local marches, meetings or signing petitions that highlight the grave injustice that is censored truth has the ability to strike change. Although these measures may seem small, political action starts within the public and, therefore, change must first be ignited at the community level.