2018 News Digital Media Viability Lab

Opinion: A “post-truth” world?

There was once a time when we had only truth and lies. Black and white. Right or wrong.

Now we are living in the post-truth era: a gray blurry line no separates truths and lies, facts and fiction.

If you look at every sector in our economy, you’re bound to find a crisis or a problem in getting “the right figures”. The scientific method is in crisis because of lack of reproducibility (the ability to run an experiment a second time and reproduce the same results). Data companies – and companies in general – rarely produce the accurate numbers they claim they do (in fact, a study by Harvard Business Review found that only 3% of Companies’ Data Meets Basic Quality Standards). And, most importantly, dishonest media outlets push fake news while legitimate ones get accused of doing the same.

For example, during the 2016 US presidential elections, many fake news websites sprang up just to earn considerable amounts of cash from ads. They often came up with obscene fake news in the form of pop-up ads. In fact, Trump himself announced a list of winners of the first Fake News Awards, which presented 11 “lies” about him.

Now, if the intelligent native English-speaking reader could fall victim for such antics, what could be expected from the rest of us?

So, the verdict is official. We are indeed living in a post-truth world. As Professor Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School says: “We are living in a post-truth world, where alternative facts and fake news compete on an equal footing with peer-reviewed research and formerly authoritative sources.”

Does this falseness make a difference to us on a personal level?

Of course it does. Today, statements are no longer simple sentences with one meaning. They are dangerous lies that we tell one another. In fact, research suggests that the average American tells multiple lies on a daily basis, often for no good reason.

Well, it’s not only the Americans who are good at lying. Lying is an ingrained habit in the Arab world, as habitual as any custom or tradition.

We practically lie about everything with casual dishonesty. It starts in the beginning of the day with a polite “How are you?” and ascends to lies about work, financial status, personal issues and above all, our opinion about politics.

Arab society has become permeated from top to bottom by deception. Its consequences for the nature of public discourse, media, business, literature, academia, and politics are profound.

In fact, some sources confirm that we are indeed living in an era of post-truth politics, with international crisis like Brexit to regional ones like the Syrian war.

The problem is deeper than you think

It’s not just about writing fake news for money. The problem is that the experts and agencies involved in producing facts have multiplied, and many are now hiring. If you really want to find an expert willing to endorse a fact, and have sufficient money or political clout behind you, you probably can, and this is what adds to the gravity of the situation, especially in Arab countries, where this is the norm rather than the exception in certain countries.

The solutions

The only way to address this dilemma is to train media outlets on the principles of authentic, conscientious journalism. After all, facts and ethics are two pillars of journalism. Media professionals also need training on sustainability and independence in a world that is increasingly hostile to media. Running training sessions with experts allows such media outlets to experience both financial success and authentic news coverage. This is what institutions like Maharat Foundation and DW Akademie are trying to do.