Defining Post-truth Society

What is the Post-truth Society?

It helps to start with a simple definition.

post-truth adjective
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

society noun
A large group of people in a defined territory, who live together in an organised way, and share a common culture.

At the end of 2016, in a reaction to the Brexit vote and the Presidential elections in the US, the Oxford Dictionary chose ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year. In 2019, ‘post-truth’ is embedded within popular culture and associated with a raft of terms that challenge the very notion of what should constitute a democratic and inclusive society.

The decline and fall of reason; Disruption of the public square; Spread of false and/or misleading information; Fake news; Culture wars; Rise of subjectivity; Co-opting of language; Filters, silos and tribes; Attention deficits; Trolls; Echo chambers, Polarisation, and Hyper-Partisanship; Conversion of popularity into legitimacy; Manipulation by “populist” leaders, governments, and fringe actors; Algorithmic control; Personal data capture; Targeted messaging and Native Advertising.

Society appears to be experiencing a moment when truth, norms, rules and traditions cannot be relied on as the currency on which to base decisions for the future. The consequences of the post-truth society are as palpable as a sense of helplessness, ambivalence and nihilism. Datafication, mass surveillance, technology platform capitalism and the failures of participation appear to be as much to blame as an increasing reliance on emotions to construct meaning.

One interesting modern phenomenon is the collapse in trust. According to the polls, people don’t trust the government, politicians, journalists and scientists, let alone bankers and business executives. Not even the Vatican has escaped this crisis of confidence.
Moises Naim, El Pais (2019).

The Need to define and plan a Response

We start with a basic premise and a set of shared values.

Truth does matter. The most powerful antidote to the post-truth society is to have educated, engaged and well-informed citizens who refuse to allow themselves to be blinded by the agendas of those who thrive from the erosion of trust. And that the moment we’re living calls for unbiased and current knowledge that may inform action – particularly from people working in sectors that are as much blamed for the post-truth society as identified as those most likely to resist its worst symptoms and provide solutions. Learning and education must play a major role in finding workable solutions to address the challenge of the post-truth society.

The common good, trust, responsibility, ethics and civic engagement are under attack. The conference is a search for an informed response from those whose actions may provide future leadership and make a difference.

How the conference came about

Why are people losing trust in absolutes? What are the new norms and how can we go back to trusting the institutions that are meant to safeguard us?

From chance encounters with books to daily conversations on the collapse of media truths, Alex Grech explains how the idea for a conference on the post-truth society has been in gestation for some time. We seem to have reached a juncture where we either choose to ignore the 'new normal' - or develop informed networks that support 'trust in absolute truths' as a fundamental citizen right.

Conference Partners

British High Commission, Malta edit
Learning Machine
Times of Malta - conference partner