Following the selection of “post-truth” as 2016’s word of the year by Oxford English Dictionaries back in November, it seems as if further momentum has been added to the concerns over fake news and the distrust of ‘facts’.
There has been much coverage of the role of politicians and the media in perpetuating this, and there is a lot of space for further debate about JAMS, NEMs, and critical thinking vs. the echo-chamber which increasingly sophisticated algorithms on social media create. But amongst the swirling depression and disbelief over the state of affairs there are some green shoots which should be cherished and nurtured.
Calls for more ‘ethics’, ‘social justice’ and ‘values’ are being made and heard:
- At an event hosted by the Gorkana Group in early December, Christian Broughton of the Independent spoke about the publication’s move to digital-only as both a reflection of the demise of print media but also as a result of a commitment to its fundamental values – reporting objectively, but with passion, on strong values and championing social justice.
- Brands are being called out for their adverts appearing alongside fake news, and are seeking ways to address the pitfalls of programmatic marketing; removing the financial incentives for fake news creators. (See: http://adage.com/article/digital/business-fake-news/306891/)
- Silicon Valley’s shining lights have come together to create the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society, with the explicit aim of improving ethics in use of AI. We can only hope that this will see social media better able to balance preferred content with facts and views outside of our personal echo chambers.
And these are barely the tip of the iceberg. While the President-Elect fuels populism with more completely unsubstantiated tweets (see below), the movement to counter fake news is happening.
At a Meltwater event Jonathan Gabay spoke about the ‘war of the worlds’ fake news broadcast in the 1930s. Orson Welles convinced America that aliens had landed, and then apologised immediately when he realised the scale of the scare he created. It is unlikely that the fake news opportunists will voluntarily do the same, but we should be supporting brands, media, advertisers and digital providers uniting around more ethical practices to try and stem the tide.
I’ll end on this advert from the Guardian, released in the 1980s (h/t to Jonathan Gabay again). In the world of post-truth an awareness of the extent of the issues, and all of the factors contributing to it, is imperative if we’re to build a full picture coloured with ethics and values.