After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News, investigates the ongoing threat caused by the phenomenon of “fake news” in the U.S., focusing on the real-life consequences that disinformation, conspiracy theories and false news stories have on the average citizen, both in an election cycle and for years to come.
Popper’s vision is one of knowledge as useful information, by which we mean knowledge that solves a problem. Information counts as knowledge, therefore, if it fulfills this simple purpose.
For people living through a ruinous financial crisis or devastating climate change — or even through rapid social change that has no material effect on their lives — it can be hard to make sense of a cascade of events that seem to have no plainly evident causal chain, or even identifiable human authors. How do you account for a world we’re meant to master, but is so complex its workings seem essentially opaque?
“Human cognition is inseparable from the unconscious emotional responses that go with it.”
In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively easy: Just present the evidence of a strong expert consensus. This approach succeeds most of the time when the issue is, say, the atomic weight of hydrogen.
But things don’t work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone’s ideological worldview. In practice, it turns out that one’s political, religious, or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one’s willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.
The question “What is truth?” is perhaps the hardest one ever posed. Science is based on the correspondence theory of truth, namely, that truth corresponds to reality. But others say that truth is based on consensus, while others say that truth is entirely relative. So, what’s the truth about truth?
ADL International Leadership Award Presented to Sacha Baron Cohen at Never Is Now 2019
Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason – the era of evidential argument – is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.
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The post-truth prophets
Postmodernism predicted our post-truth hellscape. Everyone still hates it.
Technology and globalization were making the world infinitely more complicated and that meant more information to process, more dots to connect. And one way to manage this chaos is to lean more and more on narratives that strip the world of its complexity — and often reinforce our biases at the same time.
“It’s not about foreign trolls, filter bubbles or fake news. Technology encourages us to believe we can all have first-hand access to the ‘real’ facts – and now we can’t stop fighting about it.
“Contrary to initial hype surrounding big data, the explosion of information available to us is making it harder, not easier, to achieve consensus on truth. As the quantity of information increases, the need to pick out bite-size pieces of content rises accordingly. In this radically sceptical age, questions of where to look, what to focus on and who to trust are ones that we increasingly seek to answer for ourselves, without the help of intermediaries. This is a liberation of sorts, but it is also at the heart of our deteriorating confidence in public institutions.”