Posted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 6:59 pm Post subject: The Concept of Post Fact Society
What is a post facts society. How do we live the reality today and how will we live it as technology progress? How are fact reported to us and how would one ascertain the reality vs what is reported to us?
MHI explained the post-fact society in his remarks at the Ceremony Commissioning the new Printing Press for the Nation Media Group (Nairobi, Kenya):
"All over the world, the number of media voices is exploding – websites, bloggers and social media voices multiply every day. The result is often a wild mix of messages: good information and bad information, superficial impressions, fleeting images, and a good deal of confusion and conflict. And this is true all over the world.
On top of that, this is also a time when public emotions and political sentiments are intensifying and even polarising – again, all over the world.
The result, some people say, is that we live in a “post-fact” society. Yes, a post-fact society. It’s not just that everyone feels entitled to his or her own opinion – that’s a good thing. But the problem comes when people feel they are entitled to their own facts. What is true, too often, can then depend not on what actually happened, but on whose side you are. Our search for the truth can then become less important than our allegiance to a cause – an ideology, for example, or a political party, or a tribal or religious identity, or a pro-government or opposition outlook. And so publics all over the world can begin to fragment, and societies can drift into deadlock.
In such a world, it is absolutely critical – more than ever – that the public should have somewhere to turn for reliable, balanced, objective and accurate information, as best as it can be discovered. No one, including the Nation Media Group, will ever be able to do that perfectly. But it is critically important that all of us should try.
That may sound idealistic, but that is the reason that I founded the Nation a half century ago. That is also why we have also recently started a new Graduate School of Media and Communication here in Nairobi as part of the Aga Khan University. And it is why I wanted to be here today… to share in another milestone moment for the Nation Media Group."
There was also an article recently on how history is often distorted to reflect the personal agendas of people rather than conveying true facts:
"History seems to present us with a choice between two undesirable options: If it is just one singular thing after another, then we can derive no general laws or regularities from it, and so we would seem to have no hope of learning from it; but when we do try to draw lessons from it, we lapse all too easily into such a simplified version of the past, with a handful of stock types and paradigm events, that we may as well just have made it up. History seems to be a pointless parade of insignificant events until we shape it into something that has significance for us, until we build myths out of it, until we begin using it to make up stories.
Continue reading the main story
This is what makes it so easy and tempting to weaponize history, to forgo any interest in “how it actually was” — to use the 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke’s definition of the true goal of the study of history — and to bend it toward our own present ends.
Today Donald Trump excels at treating the past as raw material to be sculpted into whatever claims serve his interests — for example, when he shifts President Obama’s birthplace from Hawaii to Kenya. But the idea that history is infinitely malleable is by no means the exclusive property of xenophobic populists. Until very recently it was common to hear from skeptics (in academia and elsewhere) that history is a “narrative,” and that we must not expect the facts themselves to dictate to us what version of history we ought to adopt. The facts are inaccessible, it was said, so let us tell stories, and create our reality."
The article below is about the politics of living in a post-fact society...
Trump and the End of Truth
As George Orwell observed, “From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned.”
Enter Putin’s pal, Donald Trump, who declares that “there will be no lies” as a prelude to shrieking unvarnished untruth for 76 minutes from a gold-limned podium. Where was Leni Riefenstahl when she was needed last week in Cleveland?
Trump is not alone. There is a global movement of minds. As John Lanchester has observed in The London Review of Books, “I don’t think there’s ever been a time in British politics when so many people in public life spent so much time loudly declaring things they knew not to be true.” The successful arguments of the “Leave” campaign for Britain to quit the European Union “were based on lies.” The charlatan trafficking most vociferously in these untruths, boorish Boris Johnson, has just become Britain’s foreign secretary.
Facts are now a quaint hangover from a time of rational discourse, little annoyances easily upended. Volume trumps reality, as Roger Ailes understood at Fox News, before a downfall that coincided with the apotheosis of his post-factual world.
Posted: Wed Jul 27, 2016 12:50 am Post subject: post fact society and what IMam says..
What is a Post Fact Society . This is a community, nation or world in which the borders blur, between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving or misleading others becomes a challenge, a game, need, and ultimately this becomes a habit
Posted: Wed Jul 27, 2016 2:32 am Post subject: Key to progress & knowledge society what Imam said
In 2006 Imam said the following regarding the knowledge society and what is the key to future progress…
“ the key to future progress will lie less in traditional top-down systems of command and control — and more in a broad, bottom-up spirit of coordination and cooperation,” consequently a “vast decentralisation of decision-making is … placing new responsibilities in the hands of local communities,”
“ and that future “intellectual progress will not lie in any single body of instruction, but in a spirit of openness to new expression and fresh insights.”
“..we are moving into a new epoch of history [which many] observers describe … as the ‘Knowledge Society’.” This, he explains, is due to several factors, including his observations that:
“The spirit of the Knowledge Society is the spirit of Pluralism — a readiness to accept the Other, indeed to learn from him, to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat. Such a spirit must be rooted, I believe, in a sense of humility before the Divine, realising that none of us have all the answers, and respecting the broad variety of God’s creation and the diversity of the Human Family”
“the world … increasingly resembles a vast web in which everything connects to everything else — where even the smallest groups and loneliest voices can exercise new influence, and where no single source of power can claim substantial control,”
Facts hold a sacred place in Western liberal democracies. Whenever democracy seems to be going awry, when voters are manipulated or politicians are ducking questions, we turn to facts for salvation.
But they seem to be losing their ability to support consensus. PolitiFact has found that about 70 percent of Donald Trump’s “factual” statements actually fall into the categories of “mostly false,” “false” and “pants on fire” untruth.
For the Brexit referendum, Leave argued that European Union membership costs Britain 350 million pounds a week, but failed to account for the money received in return.
The sense is widespread: We have entered an age of post-truth politics.
As politics becomes more adversarial and dominated by television performances, the status of facts in public debate rises too high. We place expectations on statistics and expert testimony that strains them to breaking point. Rather than sit coolly outside the fray of political argument, facts are now one of the main rhetorical weapons within it.
How can we still be speaking of “facts” when they no longer provide us with a reality that we all agree on? The problem is that the experts and agencies involved in producing facts have multiplied, and many are now for hire. 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.
The combination of populist movements with social media is often held responsible for post-truth politics. Individuals have growing opportunities to shape their media consumption around their own opinions and prejudices, and populist leaders are ready to encourage them.
But to focus on recent, more egregious abuses of facts is to overlook the ways in which the authority of facts has been in decline for quite some time. Newspapers might provide resistance to the excesses of populist demagogy, but not to the broader crisis of facts.
The problem is the oversupply of facts in the 21st century: There are too many sources, too many methods, with varying levels of credibility, depending on who funded a given study and how the eye-catching number was selected.
According to the cultural historian Mary Poovey, the tendency to represent society in terms of facts first arose in late medieval times with the birth of accounting. What was new about merchant bookkeeping, Dr. Poovey argued, was that it presented a type of truth that could apparently stand alone, without requiring any interpretation or faith on the part of the person reading it.
In the centuries that followed, accounting was joined by statistics, economics, surveys and a range of other numerical methods. But even as these methods expanded, they tended to be the preserve of small, tight-knit institutions, academic societies and professional associations who could uphold standards. National statistical associations, for example, soon provided the know-how for official statistics offices, affiliated with and funded by governments.
In the 20th century, an industry for facts emerged. Market-research companies began to conduct surveys in the 1920s and extended into opinion polling in the 1930s. Think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute were established during and after World War II to apply statistics and economics to the design of new government policies, typically in the service of one political agenda or another. The idea of “evidence-based policy,” popular among liberal politicians in the late 1990s and early 2000s, saw economics being heavily leaned on to justify government programs, in an allegedly post-ideological age.
Of course the term “fact” isn’t reserved exclusively for numbers. But it does imply a type of knowledge that can be reliably parceled out in public, without constant need for verification or interpretation.
Yet there is one much more radical contributor to our post-truth politics that could ultimately be as transformative of our society as accounting proved to be 500 years ago.
We are in the middle of a transition from a society of facts to a society of data. During this interim, confusion abounds surrounding the exact status of knowledge and numbers in public life, exacerbating the sense that truth itself is being abandoned.
The place to start in understanding this transition is with the spread of “smart” technologies into everyday life, sometimes called the “internet of things.” Thanks to the presence of smartphones and smartcards in our pockets, the dramatic uptake of social media, the rise of e-commerce as a means of purchasing goods and services, and the spread of sensory devices across public spaces, we leave a vast quantity of data in our wake as we go about our daily activities.
Like statistics or other traditional facts, this data is quantitative in nature. What’s new is both its unprecedented volume (the “big” in big data) and also the fact that it is being constantly collected by default, rather than by deliberate expert design. Numbers are being generated much faster than we have any specific use for. But they can nevertheless be mined to get a sense of how people are behaving and what they are thinking.
The promise of facts is to settle arguments between warring perspectives and simplify the issues at stake. For instance, politicians might disagree over the right economic policy, but if they can agree that “the economy has grown by 2 percent” and “unemployment is 5 percent,” then there is at least a shared stable reality that they can argue over.
The promise of data, by contrast, is to sense shifts in public sentiment. By analyzing Twitter using algorithms, for example, it is possible to get virtually real-time updates on how a given politician is perceived. This is what’s known as “sentiment analysis.”
There are precedents for this, such as the “worm” that monitors live audience reaction during a televised presidential debate, rising and falling in response to each moment of a candidate’s rhetoric. Financial markets represent the sentiments of traders as they fluctuate throughout the day. Stock markets never produce a fact as to what Cisco is worth in the way that an accountant can; they provide a window into how thousands of people around the world are feeling about Cisco, from one minute to the next.
Journalists and politicians can no more ignore a constant audit of collective mood than C.E.O.s can ignore the fluctuations in their companies’ share prices. If the British government had spent more time trying to track public sentiment toward the European Union and less time repeating the facts of how the British economy benefited from membership in the union, it might have fought the Brexit referendum campaign differently and more successfully.
Dominic Cummings, one of the leading pro-Brexit campaigners, mocked what he called outdated polling techniques. He also asked one pollster to add a question on “enthusiasm,” and, employing scientists to mine very large, up-to-the-minute data sets, to gauge voter mood and to react accordingly with ads and voter-turnout volunteers.
It is possible to live in a world of data but no facts. Think of how we employ weather forecasts: We understand that it is not a fact that it will be 75 degrees on Thursday, and that figure will fluctuate all the time. Weather forecasting works in a similar way to sentiment analysis, bringing data from a wide range of sensory devices, and converting this into a constantly evolving narrative about the near future.
However, this produces some chilling possibilities for politics. Once numbers are viewed more as indicators of current sentiment, rather than as statements about reality, how are we to achieve any consensus on the nature of social, economic and environmental problems, never mind agree on the solutions?
Conspiracy theories prosper under such conditions. And while we will have far greater means of knowing how many people believe those theories, we will have far fewer means of persuading them to abandon them.
William Davies is an associate professor in political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the author of “The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being.”
Are you smarter than an immigrant? Can you name, say, all three branches of government or a single Supreme Court justice? Most Americans, those born here, those about to make the most momentous decision in civic life this November, cannot. And most cannot pass the simple test aced by 90 percent of new citizens.
Well, then: Who controlled the Senate during the 2014 election, when control of the upper chamber was at stake? If you answered Dunno at the time, you were with a majority of Americans in the clueless category.
But surely now, when election news saturation is thicker than the humidity around Lady Liberty’s lip, we’ve become a bit more clue-full. I give you Texas. A recent survey of Donald Trump supporters there found that 40 percent of them believe that Acorn will steal the upcoming election.
Acorn? News flash: That community-organizing group has been out of existence for six years. Acorn is gone, disbanded, dead. It can no more steal an election than Donald Trump can pole vault over his Mexican wall.
We know that at least 30 million American adults cannot read. But the current presidential election may yet prove that an even bigger part of the citizenry is politically illiterate — and functional. Which is to say, they will vote despite being unable to accept basic facts needed to process this American life.
A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories
STOCKHOLM — With a vigorous national debate underway on whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, officials in Stockholm suddenly encountered an unsettling problem: a flood of distorted and outright false information on social media, confusing public perceptions of the issue.
The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.
They were all false, but the disinformation had begun spilling into the traditional news media, and as the defense minister, Peter Hultqvist, traveled the country to promote the pact in speeches and town hall meetings, he was repeatedly grilled about the bogus stories.
“People were not used to it, and they got scared, asking what can be believed, what should be believed?” said Marinette Nyh Radebo, Mr. Hultqvist’s spokeswoman.
BREAKING: Tanzania Withdraws From East Africa Community
The United Republic of Tanzania has withdrawn from the East Africa Community, the president announced.
The president of Tanzania made this announcement on the state television station during their 7pm news bulletin.
The president did not give reasons for withdrawing from the community but many have suggested that “he doesn’t want to associate himself with corrupt leaders”.
He has recently be missing out on meetings of the community and was also absent from the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
The president has also called on the EAC to relocate their headquarters away from Tanzania as the country has no interest in matters relating to the community.
It has not yet been established if Magufuli would be exiting Africa as he has seize attending the continent’s meetings.
The East African Community (EAC) is the regional intergovernmental organisation of the Republics of Kenya, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Burundi and Republic of Rwanda with its headquarters currently in Arusha, Tanzania
Politics in a Fallen World: Lying, Fact-Checkers, and the Future of Civilization
It seems safe to say that everyone who watches the final debate tonight will be convinced that (at least) one of the candidates for president is a bald-faced liar.
To many voters, Clinton seems uniquely dishonest. To many others, it’s apparent that Trump is living in an alternate reality, willing to make statements that directly contradict video and Twitter evidence.
Why this disconnect? If anything, the 2016 election has highlighted the enormous diversity of ways that Americans perceive honesty. But the territory of lying has always been contested. Even when the truth is clear-cut, certain questions remain slippery: what exactly does it mean to lie? When is it okay to lie? And what are the social, moral, and spiritual consequences of deception?
To understand these issues better, I called up a historian of lying. Dallas Denery II is the author of The Devil Wins: A History of Lying from the Garden of Eden to the Enlightenment, a study of how premodern theologians, courtiers, and philosophers grappled with the question of when, if ever, it was acceptable to lie.
We had an honest conversation about God, Donald Trump, fact-checkers, and whether dishonesty is essential to civilization.
"A recent BuzzFeed analysis found that roughly 38 percent of posts from three “hyperpartisan right-wing Facebook pages” contained false information, compared with 19 percent of hyperpartisan left-wing pages. BuzzFeed’s conclusion: “The best way to attract and grow an audience for political content on the world’s biggest social network is to eschew factual reporting and instead play to partisan biases using false or misleading information that simply tells people what they want to hear.”"
How the Internet Is Loosening Our Grip on the Truth
Next week, if all goes well, someone will win the presidency. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Will the losing side believe the results? Will the bulk of Americans recognize the legitimacy of the new president? And will we all be able to clean up the piles of lies, hoaxes and other dung that have been hurled so freely in this hyper-charged, fact-free election?
Much of that remains unclear, because the internet is distorting our collective grasp on the truth. Polls show that many of us have burrowed into our own echo chambers of information. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 81 percent of respondents said that partisans not only differed about policies, but also about “basic facts.”
For years, technologists and other utopians have argued that online news would be a boon to democracy. That has not been the case.
More than a decade ago, as a young reporter covering the intersection of technology and politics, I noticed the opposite. The internet was filled with 9/11 truthers, and partisans who believed against all evidence that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election from John Kerry, or that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim. (He was born in Hawaii and is a practicing Christian.)
Of course, America has long been entranced by conspiracy theories. But the online hoaxes and fringe theories appeared more virulent than their offline predecessors. They were also more numerous and more persistent. During Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, every attempt to debunk the birther rumor seemed to raise its prevalence online.
In a 2008 book, I argued that the internet would usher in a “post-fact” age. Eight years later, in the death throes of an election that features a candidate who once led the campaign to lie about President Obama’s birth, there is more reason to despair about truth in the online age.
Why? Because if you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against truth.
IF you get your news from this newspaper or our rival mainstream news sources, there’s probably a lot you don’t know.
You may not realize that our Kenyan-born Muslim president was plotting to serve a third term as our illegitimate president, by allowing Hillary Clinton to win and then indicting her; Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump helped avert the election-rigging.
You perhaps didn’t know that Clinton is a Satan worshiper at the center of “an international child enslavement and sex ring.” Or that Chelsea Clinton isn’t Bill Clinton’s daughter, but a love child of Hillary’s by another man — or that Bill has his own love child with a black prostitute.
Oh, the scoops we miss here at The Times!
None of those items is actually true, of course, but all have been reported by alt-right or fake news websites (the line between them is sometimes blurred). And one takeaway from this astonishing presidential election is that fake news is gaining ground, empowering nuts and undermining our democracy.
As I’ve argued for most of this year, I think we in the mainstream media — especially cable television — sometimes bungled coverage of Trump. There was too much uncritical television coverage of Trump because he was good for ratings; then there was not enough investigation of his business dealings, racism and history of sexual assaults, and too much false equivalency that equated the two candidates as equally flawed.
More broadly, we in the mainstream media are out of touch with working-class America; we spend too much time chatting up senators, and not enough visiting unemployed steel workers.
Yet for all of our sins in the mainstream media, these alt-right websites are both far more pernicious and increasingly influential. President-Elect Trump was, after all, propelled into politics partly as a champion of the lie that President Obama was born abroad and ineligible for the White House.
Even now, only 44 percent of Republicans accept the reality that Obama was born in the U.S.
While the poisonous 2016 campaign is behind us, these alt-right websites will continue to spew misinformation that undermines tolerance and democracy. I find them particularly loathsome because they do their best to magnify prejudice against blacks, Muslims and Latinos, tearing our social fabric.
The venom directed at minorities is staggering: Alt-right kooks suggest that Obama is literally the devil and is trying to destroy humanity through vaccines.
A BuzzFeed investigation found that of the Facebook posts it examined from three major right-wing websites, 38 percent were either false or a mixture of truth and falsehood. More discouraging, it was the lies that readers were particularly eager to share and thus profitable to publish. Freedom Daily had the most inaccurate Facebook page reviewed, and also produced the right-wing content most likely to go viral.
Some of the people promoting these sites aren’t even conservatives; they’re foreign entrepreneurs trying to build websites that gain a large audience and thus advertising dollars.
Alt-right and fake news sites for some reason have emerged in particular in Macedonia, in the former Yugoslavia. BuzzFeed found more than 100 sites about U.S. politics from a single town, Veles, population 45,000, in Macedonia. “I started the site for a easy way to make money,” a 17-year-old Macedonian who runs DailyNewsPolitics.com told BuzzFeed.
Facebook has been a powerful platform to disseminate these lies. If people see many articles on their Facebook feed, shared by numerous conservative friends, all indicating that Hillary Clinton is about to be indicted for crimes she committed, they may believe it.
These sites were dubbed “alt-right” because they originally were an alternative to mainstream conservatism. Today they have morphed into the mainstream: After all, Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart, one of these sites full of misinformation, ran Trump’s campaign.
It’s particularly troubling that alt-right sites agitate for racial hatred. Freedom Daily lately has had “trending now” headlines like “Black Lives Thug Rapes/Kills 69 y/o White Woman.” In fact, the killer was black but seems to have had no connection to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the murder happened in 2015.
There are also hyperpartisan left-wing websites with inaccuracies, but they are less prone to fabrication than the right-wing sites. Indeed, the Macedonian entrepreneurs originally came up with leftist websites targeting Bernie Sanders supporters but didn’t find much reader interest in them.
Rather, the problem with mainstream news sources is in part that we’re out of touch with many of the ordinary voters whom we purport to care about.
And one way in which we’re disconnected is that we don’t hear about or respond to these falsehoods in the alt-right orbit. I think that’s a mistake: When Americans come to believe lies such as that the pope endorsed Trump, or that Barack and Michelle Obama unendorsed Clinton, those are assaults on our political system and we should challenge them.
The landscape ahead looks grim to me. While the business model for mainstream journalism is in crisis, these alt-right websites expand as they monetize false “news” that promotes racism and undermines democracy. Worse, they have the imprimatur of the soon-to-be most powerful person in the world.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Donald J. Trump’s supporters were probably heartened in September, when, according to an article shared nearly a million times on Facebook, the candidate received an endorsement from Pope Francis. Their opinions on Hillary Clinton may have soured even further after reading a Denver Guardian article that also spread widely on Facebook, which reported days before the election that an F.B.I. agent suspected of involvement in leaking Mrs. Clinton’s emails was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide.
There is just one problem with these articles: They were completely fake.
The pope, a vociferous advocate for refugees, never endorsed anyone. The Denver Guardian doesn’t exist. Yet thanks to Facebook, both of these articles were seen by potentially millions of people. Although corrections also circulated on the social network, they barely registered compared with the reach of the original fabrications.
This is not an anomaly: I encountered thousands of such fake stories last year on social media — and so did American voters, 44 percent of whom use Facebook to get news.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, believes that it is “a pretty crazy idea” that “fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of content, influenced the election in any way.” In holding fast to the claim that his company has little effect on how people make up their minds, Mr. Zuckerberg is doing real damage to American democracy — and to the world.
Fixation on Fake News Overshadows Waning Trust in Real Reporting
Something is deeply wrong when the pope’s voice, reputation and influence can be borrowed by a source that describes itself as “a fantasy news site” to claim that he has endorsed a presidential candidate, and then be amplified, unchallenged, through a million individual shares.
The attention paid to fake news since the election has focused largely on fabrications and outright lies, because they are indefensible, easy to identify and extraordinarily viral. Fake news is created by the kinds of people who, when asked, might call their work satire, or admit that they’re in it for the money or for the thrill of deception. Theirs is a behavior that can and should be shunned, and that Facebook is equipped, and maybe willing, to deal with.
For many people, and especially opponents of President-elect Donald J. Trump, the attention paid to fake news and its role in the election has provided a small relief, the discovery of the error that explains everything. But as the attention has spread widely — even President Obama talked passionately about it on Thursday — it may lead to an unwanted outcome for those who see it not just as an explanation, but also as a way to correct the course. It misunderstands a new media world in which every story, and source, is at risk of being discredited, not by argument but by sheer force.
Facebook Considering Ways to Combat Fake News, Mark Zuckerberg Says
SAN FRANCISCO — After more than a week of accusations that the spread of fake news on Facebook may have affected the outcome of the presidential election, Mark Zuckerberg published a detailed post Friday night describing ways the company was considering dealing with the problem.
Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chairman and chief executive, broadly outlined some of the options he said the company’s news feed team was looking into, including third-party verification services, better automated detection tools and simpler ways for users to flag suspicious content.
Facebook and the Digital Virus Called Fake News
This year, the adage that “falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it” doesn’t begin to describe the problem. That idea assumes that the truth eventually catches up. There’s not much evidence of this happening for the millions of people taken in by the fake news stories — like Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump or Mr. Trump pulling ahead of Hillary Clinton in the popular vote — that have spread on social media sites.
Most of the fake news stories are produced by scammers looking to make a quick buck. The vast majority of them take far-right positions. But a big part of the responsibility for this scourge rests with internet companies like Facebook and Google, which have made it possible for fake news to be shared nearly instantly with millions of users and have been slow to block it from their sites.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook, has dismissed the notion that fake news is prevalent on his platform or that it had an influence on the election. But according to a BuzzFeed News analysis, during the last three months of the presidential campaign, the 20 top fake news stories on Facebook generated more engagement — shares, likes and comments — than the 20 top stories from real news websites.
These hoaxes are not just bouncing around among like-minded conspiracy theorists; candidates and elected officials are sharing them, too. Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, on Thursday tweeted about people who have been paid to riot against Mr. Trump — an idea propagated by fake news stories. A man who wrote a number of false news reports told The Washington Post that Trump supporters and campaign officials often shared his false anti-Clinton posts without bothering to confirm the facts and that he believes his work may have helped elect the Republican nominee.
Abroad, the dissemination of fake news on Facebook, which reaches 1.8 billion people globally, has been a longstanding problem. In countries like Myanmar, deceptive internet content has reportedly contributed to ethnic violence. And it has influenced elections in Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere. Social media sites have also been used to spread misinformation about the referendum on the peace deal in Colombia and about Ebola in West Africa.
Only a few days after the presidential election, the Oxford English Dictionary crowned its international word of the year: post-truth. The dictionary defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” To say that the term captured the zeitgeist of 2016 is a lexigraphical understatement. The word, the dictionary’s editors explained, had “gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary.”
Not coincidentally, it was also the year of “fake news,” in which pure fiction masquerading as truth (like posts that claimed Hillary Clinton used a body double and that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump) may have spread wide enough to influence the outcome of the election. Some were certainly deliberate lies spread by right-wing Clinton opponents and all-out profiteers, many in countries outside the United States (and possibly even the Russian government). But framing the issue solely in terms of lying actually underplays and mischaracterizes the grand deception being perpetuated inside the internet’s fun house of mirrors.
Lies masquerading as news are as old as news itself. It’s a history we should keep in mind amid the current panic about “fake news.” Donald J. Trump’s victory in the presidential election has focused attention on the torrent of false stories, particularly on social media, that many believe played a pivotal role in his victory. But too much of the debate ignores the long history of fake news and fails to recognize what is actually distinctive about contemporary politics.
In the past, governments, mainstream institutions and newspapers manipulated news and information. Today, anyone with a Facebook account can do it. Instead of the carefully organized fake news of old, there is now an anarchic outflow of lies. What has changed is not that news is faked, but that the old gatekeepers of news have lost their power. Just as elite institutions have lost their grip over the electorate, so their ability to define what is and is not news has also eroded.
The panic about fake news has given fuel to the idea that we live in a “post-truth” era. The Oxford English Dictionary has even made post-truth its “word of the year,” defining it as “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” But just as with fake news, the truth, if I may still use that word, about post-truth is more complex than many allow.
Politics has always relied on more than just facts about the world. It rests also an ideological framework through which to interpret facts. Consider some of the big questions that may dominate the early Trump presidency. Should there be a registry of Muslims? Should undocumented workers be deported? Is torture acceptable? Should abortion be made illegal?
For weeks, Facebook has been questioned about its role in spreading fake news. Now the company has mounted its most concerted effort to combat the problem.
Facebook said on Thursday that it had begun a series of experiments to limit misinformation on its site. The tests include making it easier for its 1.8 billion members to report fake news, and creating partnerships with outside fact-checking organizations to help it indicate when articles are false. The company is also changing some advertising practices to stop purveyors of fake news from profiting from it.
Facebook, the social network, is in a tricky position with these tests. It has long regarded itself as a neutral place where people can freely post, read and view content, and it has said it does not want to be an arbiter of truth. But as its reach and influence have grown, it has had to confront questions about its moral obligations and ethical standards regarding what appears on the network.
Its experiments on curtailing fake news show that Facebook recognizes it has a deepening responsibility for what is on its site. But Facebook also must tread cautiously in making changes, because it is wary of exposing itself to claims of censorship.
‘How Propaganda Works’ Is a Timely Reminder for a Post-Truth Age
In “Mein Kampf,” Hitler argued that effective propaganda appeals “to the feelings of the public rather than to their reasoning ability”; relies on “stereotyped formulas,” repeated over and over again, to drum ideas into the minds of the masses; and uses simple “love or hate, right or wrong” formulations to assail the enemy while making “intentionally biased and one-sided” arguments.
Although propaganda has usually been associated with totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the scholar Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University, reminds us in his latest book that propaganda can also pose a grave danger to democracies. The subject couldn’t be more relevant, given the profusion of fake news and misinformation on the web today; a public with a voracious appetite for scandal and entertainment, coupled with media outlets obsessed with ratings and clicks; Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and next year’s European elections; and a president-elect who has stoked the fears and grievances of supporters, and who frequently lies, flip-flops and sows confusion by tweet.
In this newly released paperback edition of “How Propaganda Works,” Mr. Stanley analyzes modern propaganda — its operation, techniques and fallout. His prose can eddy into annoying academic-ese, but the reader who can get past the repetitions and jargon will find that this book provides valuable insights into an important and timely subject.
This is why propaganda — which provides a simple, convenient and seemingly coherent narrative architecture for processing events — thrives in a polarized environment in which truth is regarded as relativistic and facts are treated as fungible. And it’s how reality-distorting propaganda undermines the reasoned deliberation that is so essential to democracy.
The caller ID on my office telephone said the number was from Las Vegas, but when I picked up the receiver I heard what sounded like a busy overseas call center in the background. The operator, “John,” asked if I would be interested in attending the 15th World Cardiology and Angiology Conference in Philadelphia next month.
“Do I have to be a doctor?” I said, because I’m not one. I got the call because 20 minutes earlier I had entered my phone number into a website run by a Hyderabad, India, company called OMICS International.
“You can have the student rate,” the man replied. With a 20 percent discount, it would be $599. The conference was in just a few weeks, I pointed out — would that be enough time for the academic paper I would be submitting to be properly reviewed? (Again, I know nothing about cardiology.) It would be approved on an “expedited basis” within 24 hours, he replied, and he asked which credit card I would like to use.
If it seems that I was about to be taken, that’s because I was. OMICS International is a leader in the growing business of academic publication fraud. It has created scores of “journals” that mimic the look and feel of traditional scholarly publications, but without the integrity. This year the Federal Trade Commission formally charged OMICS with “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.”
OMICS is also in the less well-known business of what might be called conference fraud, which is what led to the call from John. Both schemes exploit a fundamental weakness of modern higher education: Academics need to publish in order to advance professionally, get better jobs or secure tenure. Even within the halls of respectable academia, the difference between legitimate and fake publications and conferences is far blurrier than scholars would like to admit.
The secret to happiness in almost any relationship is knowing what not to say. Ask your new love about her old loves and you’ll learn more than you want to know, and hear things you’ll never be able to unhear. Start telling your teacher that your dog ate your homework while your grandma was being rushed to the hospital, and he’ll have even less patience with you than if you just say, “I blew it.”
One reason we’re advised to send only brief emails is that too much information gives the person at the other end much more to misinterpret — or to start chewing over at 3 a.m. The other is that if you send a long message, the person you’re writing to may feel compelled to send an equally long one back, and then it’s you who’s twisting and turning on what she meant by that “and” and why she never mentioned Steve.
Or why she never wrote back at all.
We have, of course, been aware of this danger since the beginning of time, and yet we’ve never been in a position to devour (or deliver) as much information as we are today, in the age of 24/7 news cycles and social media. We’ve never been so tempted, therefore, to forget that the pool of knowledge is limited; it’s the pool of ignorance, speculation and misunderstanding that is infinite.
As we look back on our season of surprises — from Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize to Donald Trump’s election — what we’re being reminded of, surely, is how very little we know. On Nov. 7, thanks to more data than had ever been collected before, updated every second for 16 months or more, we all knew what was coming. By midnight the following day, we realized that all the data in the world doesn’t add up to real life.
Remember in “Othello” how the seasoned warrior is coaxed away from the realm of knowledge and into the adjacent territories of inference and rumor, by his old friend Iago? The minute he is severed from real life, on the “rack” of his own thoughts, declaring “Iago is most honest” after Iago has confided to us, “I am not what I am,” the noble Moor can’t be sure of a thing. Our pollsters, our pundits, our sources of “news” — our know-it-all selves — work much the same ground, though perhaps with less malicious intent, to persuade us that hearsay + opinion + guesswork = truth.
I recently got a crash course in this reality — don’t we all nowadays, on dates or job interviews, on simple social occasions? — when I visited a campus. I was told that Professor X was going to host me for dinner, so of course I decided to check him out online, not least because I was fairly sure Professor X would do the same with me. I needed to show him I had thought about him beforehand; more than that, I had to be armed for two hours of small talk.
As soon as I googled him, RateMyTeachers.com came up, and I learned that my host-to-be was arrogant, ignorant, cruel and even sadistic. Each entry was more vicious than the last. Only later did I wonder whether this character assassination was a conspiracy among the few students to whom he’d given a “C.” I didn’t stop to think that I wouldn’t necessarily trust these 19-year-olds in any other domain, least of all when their futures were at stake. I didn’t bother to consider that it’s usually those who are most vehemently pursuing an agenda who take the time and trouble to post reviews online.
I went into my host’s house on guard — and hardly knew what to do with the kindly, courteous and really fun man who stood in front of me. He no doubt wondered why I was being so standoffish and reserved. Or maybe he’d come across reviews of me online and knew already that I’m arrogant, ignorant and cruel.
Greater access to knowledge is one of the glories of our age. Even many of our most materially deprived neighbors have the Library of Alexandria, multiplied by a factor of roughly infinity, in the palm of their hands, as no generation before ours has had. The amount of data in our control is part of what has made our lives richer and happier than ever before. On a trip to North Korea two years ago, after many years away, I recalled, with a shock, what it is to be in a sealed, predigital universe in which you can know only what you’re permitted to know.
Walking around the Potemkin monuments of Pyongyang, I had to recall to myself that the glittery, ultramodern skyscrapers around me were often stage sets, with nothing but ghosts on many floors; the woman in the gleaming subway car who offered a friendly hello in English might well have been ordered to do so by her government, a human prop. The moment I returned to what I regard as Planet Earth, I went online, and rejoiced to come upon what felt like almost universally acknowledged truths.
But one thing that happens when we acquire too much “knowledge” is that, like Othello, we sometimes fail to distinguish it from what can never be known, which may not be untrue. Another is that we’re tempted to lose sight of the distinction between those realms, like science and health, where the more data we have, the better, and others, like human relations, where the opposite may be true.
Knowledge comes to seem an end in itself, and then we gobble it down and gobble it down without stopping to realize that it’s Iago — or that anonymous writer of the Wikipedia entry — who’s serving it up to us, and that wisdom sometimes depends on seeing how much knowledge doesn’t know and how much every day is shaped by unexpectedness.
As a boy I was aware that knowledge was the coolest form of power around; nearly every adolescent wants to be in the know. What I couldn’t see was that it’s precisely in matters of highest importance — love, terror, is there a God, and why is Iago possessed by the Devil? — that we’re outside the domain of knowledge. That the more information we gather, on anyone from Angelina Jolie to Donald Trump, the less we seem to know. And that nobody trustworthy wishes to run for public office now, in part because, in the age of knowledge, no one is unstained before the global jury of the internet.
Anyone reading this essay will accumulate more knowledge today than Shakespeare did in his entire lifetime. But Shakespeare knew much that it’s harder for us to see. As my friends keep telling me what’s going to happen during the Trump presidency, I remember everything they were telling me eight years ago about how President Obama was going to change the world. Thank heavens President Obama was wise enough sometimes to point out that none of us even knows what’s going to happen tonight.
Pico Iyer, a distinguished presidential fellow at Chapman University, is the author, most recently, of “The Man Within My Head” and “The Art of Stillness.”
And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point that was revealed by the most unlikely collection of actors: Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and the Macy’s department store. Who’d have thunk it?
And what was this tipping point?
It was the moment when we realized that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace.” That is to say, a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.
After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good, and certainly no “1-800-Call-If-Putin-Hacks-Your-Election.” If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.
And yet this realm is where we now spend increasing hours of our day. Cyberspace is now where we do more of our shopping, more of our dating, more of our friendship-making and sustaining, more of our learning, more of our commerce, more of our teaching, more of our communicating, more of our news-broadcasting and news-seeking and more of our selling of goods, services and ideas.
It’s where both our president-elect and the leader of ISIS can communicate with equal ease with tens of millions of their respective followers through Twitter — without editors, fact-checkers, libel lawyers or other filters.
And, I would argue, 2016 will be remembered as the year when we fully grasped just how scary that can be — how easy it was for a presidential candidate to tweet out untruths and half-truths faster than anyone could correct them, how cheap it was for Russia to intervene on Trump’s behalf with hacks of Democratic operatives’ computers and how unnerving it was to hear Yahoo’s chief information security officer, Bob Lord, say that his company still had “not been able to identify” how one billion Yahoo accounts and their sensitive user information were hacked in 2013.
Even President Obama was taken aback by the speed at which this tipping point tipped. “I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies,” he told ABC News’s “This Week.”
At Christmas, Amazon.com taught yet more traditional retailers how hard the cybertipping point has hit retailing. Last week, Macy’s said it was slashing 10,000 jobs and closing dozens of stores because, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Macy’s hasn’t been able to solve consumers’ shift to online shopping.”
At first Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, insisted that fake news stories carried by Facebook “surely had no impact” on the election and that saying so was “a pretty crazy idea.” But in a very close election it was not crazy at all.
Facebook — which wants all the readers and advertisers of the mainstream media but not to be saddled with its human editors and fact-checkers — is now taking more seriously its responsibilities as a news purveyor in cyberspace.
Alan S. Cohen, chief commercial officer of the cybersecurity firm Illumio (I am a small shareholder), noted in an interview on siliconAngle.com that the reason this tipping point tipped now was because so many companies, governments, universities, political parties and individuals have concentrated a critical mass of their data in enterprise data centers and cloud computing environments.
Ten years ago, said Cohen, bad guys did not have the capabilities to get at all this data and extract it, but “now they do,” and as more creative tools like big data and artificial intelligence get “weaponized,” this will become an even bigger problem. It’s a huge legal, moral and strategic problem, and it will require, said Cohen, “a new social compact” to defuse.
Work on that compact has to start with every school teaching children digital civics. And that begins with teaching them that the internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.
A Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November found “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet. Students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from. … One assessment required middle schoolers to explain why they might not trust an article on financial planning that was written by a bank executive and sponsored by a bank. The researchers found that many students did not cite authorship or article sponsorship as key reasons for not believing the article.”
Prof. Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the report, said: “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.”
In an era when more and more of our lives have moved to this digital realm, that is downright scary.
Quebec mosque shooting: Fox News removes tweet after Trudeau complaint
Fox News has taken down a tweet about the Quebec City mosque shooter after a complaint was lodged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau’s office had asked Fox to retract or update the tweet, which described the alleged Quebec City mosque shooter as being of Moroccan origin.
In the minutes after the shooting Sunday night, police arrested two men — a Moroccan-born Quebecer and a Quebec-born man. At noon on Monday, police announced the Moroccan-born man was actually a witness. The other man — Alexandre Bissonnette — has been charged with murder and attempted murder.
At 12:31 p.m. on Monday, Fox News tweeted: “Suspect in Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, reports show.”
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, the tweet had not been removed.
But by 8 p.m., it was no longer on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Kate Purchase, Trudeau’s director of communications, wrote to Fox News, demanded that the tweet be taken down or corrected.
“Canada is an open, welcoming country that stands by its citizens,” Purchase said in her letter.
“We are a nation of millions of immigrants and refugees, of hundreds of cultures, languages, and religions bound by one, unwavering, unshakable belief: we are stronger not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
“These tweets by Fox News dishonour the memory of the six victims and their families by spreading misinformation, playing identity politics, and perpetuating fear and division within our communities.”
Purchase went on to note that “Muslims are predominantly the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world. To paint terrorists with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant — it is irresponsible.
“If we allow individuals and organizations to succeed by scaring people, we do not actually end up any safer. Fear does not make us safer. It makes us weaker. Ramping up fear and closing our borders is not a solution. It distracts from the real issues that affect people’s day to day life.”
The second man arrested on Sunday night spoke out after police released him.
Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old Moroccan-born engineering student, told reporters he was trying to help shooting victims when police mistook him for a suspect. But he doesn’t hold it against police.
Belkhadir, who had called 911 after hearing 15 to 20 seconds of gunfire, said he fled when he saw someone with a firearm. He thought it was the shooter; in fact, it was a police officer.
Fact-based journalism is a ridiculous, tautological phrase. It’s like talking about oxygen-based human life. There is no other kind. Facts are journalism’s foundation; the pursuit of them, without fear or favor, is its main objective.
But in this time of President Trump’s almost daily “fake news” accusations against The New York Times, and of his counselor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” and of untruths seeping like a plague from the highest office in the land, there’s increasing talk of “real” or “fact-based” journalism.
That’s ominous. Fact-based as opposed to what other type? To state the obvious, fake news websites fed by kids in Macedonia to make a buck are not journalism. These sites use fabricated stuff in journalism’s garb to further political ends.
There’s a targeted “Gaslight” attack on journalists designed to make them doubt their sanity. It’s emanating from the White House and aims to drag everyone down the rabbit hole where 2+2=5.
Velocity trumps veracity. That is the puzzle and the menace of our age.
Speed and disruption have more psychological impact than truth and science. They shape the discourse. The debunking of a fake news story is seldom as powerful as the story itself. Trump says “X.” Uproar! Hordes of journalists scurry to disprove “X.” He moves on, never to mention it again, or claims that he did not say it, or insists that what he really said was “Y.”
The enormity of the defiling of the White House in just three weeks is staggering. For decades the world’s security was undergirded by America’s word. The words that issued from the Oval Office were solemn. It was on America’s word, as expressed by the president, that the European continent and allies like Japan built their postwar security.
Now the words that fall from Trump’s pursed lips or, often misspelled, onto his Twitter feed are trite or false or meaningless. He’s angry with Nordstrom, for heaven’s sake, because the department store chain dropped his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line! This is the concern of the leader of the free world.
Perhaps the answer seems obvious: What’s normal is what’s typical — what is average.
But in a recent paper in the journal Cognition, we argue that the situation is more complicated than that. After conducting a series of experiments that examined how people decide whether something is normal or not, we found that when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal.
Normal, in other words, turns out to be a blend of statistical and moral notions.
Our key finding can be illustrated with a simple example. Ask yourself, “What is the average number of hours of TV that people watch in a day?” Then ask yourself a question that might seem very similar: “What is the normal number of hours of TV for a person to watch in a day?”
If you are like most of our experimental participants, you will not give the same answer to the second question that you give to the first. Our participants said the “average” number was about four hours and the “normal” number was about three hours. In addition, they said that the “ideal” number was about 2.5 hours. This has an interesting implication. It suggests that people’s conception of the normal deviates from the average in the direction of what they think ought to be so.
Our studies found this same pattern in numerous other cases: the normal grandmother, the normal salad, the normal number of students to be bullied in a middle school. Again and again, our participants did not take the normal to be the same as the average. Instead, what people picked out as the “normal thing to do” or a “normal such-and-such” tended to be intermediate between what they thought was typical and what they thought was ideal.
We even made up a story about a fictitious type of tool — a “stagnar” — and provided information about what it was used for and what it typically looked like. Pretty soon, our participants had developed a conception of the normal stagnar that was intermediate between the average stagnar and the ideal stagnar.
These results point to something surprising about the way people’s minds work. You might imagine that people have two completely distinct modes of reasoning: On one hand, we can think about how things typically are; on the other, we can think about how things ought to be.
But our results suggest that people’s minds cannot be divided up so neatly in this way. People might sometimes be able to separate out the average from the ideal, but they more often make use of a kind of reasoning that blends the two together into a single undifferentiated judgment of normality. This apparently instinctive judgment appears to play an important role in people’s ordinary way of making sense of their lives and the world around them.
The consequences can be serious. Our research suggests, for example, that as President Trump continues to do things that once would have been regarded as outlandish, these actions are not simply coming to be regarded as more typical; they are coming to be seen as more normal. As a result, they will come to be seen as less bad and hence less worthy of outrage.
Our work thus offers support for those who worry about “normalization”: that things, simply by becoming more common, become more acceptable
(The same holds true for gay marriage, or gender reassignment surgery, or any other controversial institution or practice that becomes more widespread.)
Likewise, people’s attitudes toward atypical behavior are frequently colored by this blended conception of normality. When a kid does not have the usual interests or the usual haircut, his peers do not view his behavior simply as atypical or statistically infrequent. They view it as abnormal — as weird or deviant. The result can be ostracism or bullying.
There is, fortunately, some good news. However deeply ingrained this cognitive tendency may be, people are not condemned to think this way. You are certainly capable of distinguishing carefully between what is typical and what is good. You are able to understand that something occurs frequently without also thinking that it is morally acceptable, or that something occurs infrequently without thinking that it is weird or deviant.
But this type of thinking, which takes some discipline, is no doubt more the exception than the rule. Most often, we do not stop to distinguish the typical from the acceptable, the infrequent from the deviant. Instead, we categorize things in terms of a more basic, undifferentiated notion of normality, which blends together these two importantly different facets of human life.
Combating this tendency in ourselves and others is — perhaps now more than ever — something to be vigilant about.
Europe Combats a New Foe of Political Stability: Fake News
BRUSSELS — They scan websites and pore over social media, combing through hundreds of reports a day. But the bogus claims just keep coming.
Germans are fleeing their country, fearful of Muslim refugees. The Swedish government supports the Islamic State. The European Union has drafted rules to regulate the ethnicity of snowmen.
In their open-plan office overlooking a major thoroughfare in Brussels, an 11-person team known as East Stratcom, serves as Europe’s front line against this onslaught of fake news.
Created by the European Union to address “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns,” the team — composed of diplomats, bureaucrats and former journalists — tracks down reports to determine whether they are fake. Then, it debunks the stories for hapless readers. In the 16 months since the team has been on the job, it has discredited 2,500 stories, many with links to Russia.
As a journalist with extensive experience, Ali has had the opportunity to witness all forms of news. One type in particular poses a threat that has been exacerbated in our digital media society - fake news. Ali discusses the problems of fake news, how we are all affected by it, and how individuals can ensure the news they’re reading is rooted in fact, not fiction.
Ali Velshi is an anchor & correspondent with MSNBC. Most recently, he hosted “Ali Velshi On Target” on Al Jazeera America, covering the Presidential campaign, ISI, the refugee crisis, the Iran deal, Russia/NATO tensions, and Greece’s debt crisis, among other global affairs and economic issues. Before that, Velshi was CNN’s Chief Business Correspondent, and authored two finance books.
Velshi has been nominated for three Emmy Awards and he holds a B.A and an honorary Doctorate from Canada’s Queen’s University. Velshi is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves on the Boards of the X-Prize Foundation, Seeds of Peace, and the Chicago History Museum. He volunteers weekly with New York’s homeless outreach program.
THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.
Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”
“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”
Conservative evangelicals are not the only ones who think that an authority trusted by the other side is probably lying. But they believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right. This religious tradition of fact denial long predates the rise of the culture wars, social media or President Trump, but it has provoked deep conflict among evangelicals themselves.
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