Reading Between the Blurred Lines in a Post-Truth Era
The following article is a preview of the book Media, Technology and Education in a Post-Truth Society authored by academic and strategist Dr Alex Grech.
We are living in an age where information is at our disposal quite literally at our fingertips, thanks to technology and its rapid advancement. Yet, such accessibility does not evade people questioning its reliability and veracity. On the contrary, this era of post-truth has made many feel uneasy, with an increasing need to cross-examine and argue whatever is presented as fact. And while it is healthy to be critical; being overly sceptical of what is true or false, real or fake, makes us spiral down into this dark rabbit hole of unanswered questions and uncertainties.
Take for instance this global pandemic from which we have yet to fully recover. Indubitably, it has brought the entire world to its knees. Millions of people died, countries’ economies collapsed and there was (and still is) so much information overload, that it is hard to keep up with what is trustworthy data or information which should be discredited – particularly articles or theories being spread like wildfire on social media. Are vaccines safe? What is more detrimental to our health, contracting COVID or taking a vaccine which, we know so little about? Why should we trust a vaccine that was created in such a short time? Is this pandemic even real? Or was it just a hoax created by ‘big pharma’ to pocket a staggering fortune?
In reality, it becomes somewhat of a challenging feat to differentiate what is worth reading, much less believing. So much so, when fake news is masked as a credible source of information, once unmasked, it creates a level of distrust in the general public which cannot be easily reversed. Consequently, people are left questioning every source of information, labelling it as ‘questionable’ or even unreliable, despite being reputable.
We as a society find ourselves in a dangerous territory where even well-researched resources may very well be debunked, because it is easier to choose cynicism over time-consuming research and critical analysis. After all, information found online doesn’t necessarily rubberstamp the source as being truthful or factual, indeed, many a time it is quite the contrary.
Dr Alex Grech, Executive director of the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning, acknowledges this inescapable fact. Gone are the days where people are presented with information and accept it as an all-encompassing truth. Why? Because we as a society have lost trust in all our main channels of information: education, technology, media (both old and new) and public policy (government). While these are the four main pillars of information the world has access to – some more easily than others – over the years, people have lost trust in one, more or all of these absolutes.
A post-truth society brings with it an array of thought-provoking ideas. Dr Grech’s latest book Media, Technology and Education in a Post-Truth Society explores a smorgasbord of concepts from the spread of misleading information and fake news, to the rise of subjectivity and algorithmic control.
Conventionally, education, the media and technology have been extolled as entities that make knowledge straightforwardly available, in an effort to guarantee the quest for truth. Nowadays, however, they appear to be the very contributing factors in the manufacturing and consumption of pseudo-knowledge, in a digital world that insists on blurring the lines between truth, quasi-truths, and falsehoods. Conversely, the perpetrators of (mis)information are the very units that should be championing what truth stands for. Governments, media, corporations and individuals are all participants in the current state of affairs – in more ways than one. The result? A bleak and bewildered journey toward tribalism, populism and extremism.
Grech’s book features a collection of 20 essays written by interdisciplinary scholars, from technologists and policy-makers to activists – hailing from ten countries and varying cultural backgrounds. They explore the true impact of media, emerging technologies, and education, where focus is given on the resilience of what really constitutes a post-truth society. This is done by promoting community participation, improved critical media literacy, journalism for the humanity’s wellbeing, techno-interventions and of course, lifelong learning schemes. The main message of this book is simple: all such facets can work symbiotically to foster a more involved global citizenry.
Critical questions about the nature and power of knowledge in the 21st century are raised, as they challenge readers to rethink the part they play in perpetuating certain beliefs. Owing to perspectives that are diverse by geography, sector, gender and most significantly, world-views. Perhaps one of the greatest appeals of this anthology is its aim to reach an international readership who is attempting to comprehend the workings of dissemination of information. This, in a society where seeking the truth has become such a challenging feat, we find ourselves wanting to insulate ourselves from the truth by immediately labelling it as falsehood.
Some may pose the warranted question: what are the stakes for truth? To start off, truth is far from an abstract concept, in that it has direct impact on the way we categorise human communities, on our philosophies of justice and on our abilities to imagine the future. Nevertheless, we are faced with a collapse in public truth as a result of many different voices. This, in turn leads to a proliferation of speech. Truth itself is something that is going to be a ‘negotiated’ phenomenon. Determining what is an absolute truth is the biggest hurdle to overcome: how do we recognise multiple different voices?
The best way forward is to find and figure out a structure in which communities, civil societies can come together for the common good, to form opinions about facts in a framework that is consistent with this decentralised way in which the world is heading. Such structured dissemination of information should be designed to protect people in such a way that a ‘safe haven’ is always there for those in search for what is true and factual.
If like the contributors of this book, you have an inquisitive mind that incessantly questions this ubiquitous trend of misinformation, these essays will resonate with your thirst for knowledge and answer a multitude of questions. So be sure to add Media, Technology and Education and in a Post-Truth Society by Dr Alex Grech on your must-read booklist!