The Truth Behind Fake News

Following the US Presidential election and Brexit campaigns, our world seems to have become increasingly distorted by fake news; but why do we accept it, and where do we go next?



Many deem the post truth age to be a societal threat, but fake news itself is not new. Whilst it may have changed over time, in line with increasingly sophisticated tools, falsehoods have existed as long as humans have communicated.



Psychologist and Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman stated: “Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats” – we can do it, but we prefer not to. Amongst the chaos of our daily lives and the superfluidity of ‘news-like’ misinformation online, we prefer our concepts dumbed down, and the world explained to us in simple, bitesize terms. Literal truth is hard work. It asks us to form our own opinion (or worse, have existing ones challenged) and is also, actually, quite a boring read.



The big shift though is in responsibility towards the truth. Where politicians once seemed at pains to prove their argument, successful recent campaigners, like Trump, have acted as though there is little, or no, difference between truth and falsehood. In his book ‘Post Truth’, Evan Davis, cites our current period as ‘peak bullshit’. Alongside the craft and diligence of professional journalism, misinformation is scattered through social media feeds via powerful individuals dictating and defining their own version of the truth, or by bots who have churned personal data through an algorithm to produce something they knows will spark curiosity.



The most liked content, and strongest clickbait, taps into our basic human emotions: fear, joy, humour, pain, deceit or hope, often using questions and lures to make things feel personal. Phrases like “will make you” and “this is what” feature in twitter’s top headline phrases. Popular too are the hot topics, the newsjacks, the cliffhangers: “The world wasn’t ready”, “Things no one tells you about” and “What X doesn’t want you to know” furthers our sense of urgency to read.



Could it be that politicians are simply taking their lead from the deeply transparent clickbait news world and realising the ease with which they can slip between opinion and fact, sense and nonsense? In their fight for that, most precious and desired of all properties, attention, they are adopting the approach which the most powerful headlines have always used: polarisation and sensationalism? Were it not so peppered malevolence, and so dangerously influential, it could almost be seen as just another form of entertainment. What is worryingly questionable now, is how (or if) reasoned logic will ever be restored…