“What people believe prevails over the truth.”
— Sophocles, from “Sons of Aleus”
We now have slid from “truthiness,” Stephen Colbert’s funny little noun that means “the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence or the like,” a short distance down a very slippery slope to “post-truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary has selected “post-truth” as its <a href=”http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37995600″>word of the year</a>. It is defined as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.
Its selection follows June’s Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election.
Item: There were 8,711,000 shares, reactions and comments generated on Facebook by 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs in the run-up to last week’s election.
“In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others,” a <a href=”https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook?utm_content=buffer20bf6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer&utm_term=.ue58BBB65X#.shQBwwwa6d”>BuzzFeed News</a> analysis found.
Paul Horner, a guy who makes $120K a year writing fake news that gets shared on social media, claims, in an interview with the <a href=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/11/17/facebook-fake-news-writer-i-think-donald-trump-is-in-the-white-house-because-of-me/”>Washington Post</a>, that his fake news stories got Donald Trump elected president. Here’s Horner’s explanation:
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.”
It has gotten to the point where PR practitioners are actually writing articles for PR practitioners with tips on how to conduct business in a post-truth milieu, like this one from Forbes: <a href=”http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwynne/2016/11/14/public-relations-in-a-post-factual-world/#7ea7a3c14825″>”Public Relations In A Post-Factual Fake News World.”</a>
We have entered bleak times indeed when the merchants of truth have been rendered bereft of their stock in trade.