Gimme some truth

Upside down view through camera lens

The upside down winter by Viktor Varga @ Flickr

In a year whose disappointments have ranged from the political to the musical it turns out 2016 has at least one more reason to be less cheerful, and it comes from the unlikely quarter of the Oxford Dictionary.

The lexicographers earlier this month pronounced ‘post-truth’ to be their word of the year, thanks to its spike in use during the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU and the US presidential election.

It’s certainly a step down in the quirky fact stakes from ‘Face with Tears of Joy’, which was used to illustrate 2015’s word of the year ‘emoji’.

In terms of words you’d rather not have to use ‘post-truth’ is probably right up there with ‘credit crunch’, which took the honour in 2008.

Nevertheless, there’s been little escape from post-truth this year – particularly when paired with a certain noun to form post-truth politics.

At the same time there’s the joy that is fake news and what its spread says about society. As US president Barack Obama recently noted:

If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not – particularly in an age of social media, where so many people are getting their information in sound-bites and snippets off their phones – if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda then we have problems.

The rising temperature of the issue belatedly forced Google and Facebook to respond, with moves to cut off revenue sources for fake news sites, but Obama’s intervention raised the stakes further.

In response to those words Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined further steps for tackling misinformation on his social network, among them stronger detection systems, easier reporting and adding warnings to stories that may be false.

Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.

In the meantime, an alternative route is proposed by Tim O’Reilly, who outlines the possibilities for algorithms to deal with the problem.

But whether the scourge of fake news can now fully be dealt with by computer programme or human intervention in such a diffuse media landscape remains to be seen.

Something else that is yet to be proved is the veracity of a related claim by prominent Leave campaigner (and now politician with rather more time on his hands) Michael Gove:

I think people in this country, have had enough of experts.

2016 – truly the year that keeps on giving.


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