In a world that is consumed with a high sense of self and the paramount validity of one’s own feelings and desires, our concept of and openness to the existence of objective truth often becomes blurry. If emotions alone inform our decisions, instead of objective truths, the potential for irrational decisions follow. The potential outcome may be some form of destruction.
Current moves to introduce a Hate Speech Bill in South Africa has sparked concern from various quarters. The Bill, as it is currently formulated, is susceptible to many subjective interpretations; feelings and emotions of individuals could play a key part in criminalising hate speech and hate crime. With no objective standard by which to measure the intentions of speech or behaviour, many differently intended actions could be classified as punishable. You can view the Bill here and read more about our participation in the legislative process of the Bill here.
So how do we strive for truth?
Recent media articles highlight widespread concern with unobjective and fake news across the globe. Falsehoods are easily spread and taken for reality. The consequences are often undesirable. In South Africa, the ANC allegedly launched a secret campaign to gain support by means of crude propaganda. The supposed aim was to discredit opposition parties with fake posters during the 2016 local government elections. If true and widespread, campaigns such as these are serious violations of South Africa’s electoral code of conduct, and pose a serious threat to the country’s democracy.
Allegations of false exploitation of media in politics are not limited to South Africa. Last year, in the heat of the US elections, Donald Trump expressed a suspicion that the elections would be “rigged”. A college graduate graduate jumped onto the bandwagon, fabricating the story of fake votes in favour of Hillary Clinton. Together with allegations by Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, that Mrs Clinton unfairly controlled the media, and the concurrent allegations that Trump benefited from an illegal hack to win the election, it is difficult to establish whether the manipulation of various facts resulted in an election that did not reflect the views of the American people.
What the media says
In this context, Oxford Dictionary elevated the word “post-truth” to the 2016 word of the year. The goal was to highlight society’s departure from objective truths, and instead starting to showing a reliance on own feelings and emotions. Tim Cohen, editor of the Business Day wrote, “We don’t live in a ‘post-truth world’; we live in a world in which some people would prefer to ignore the truth.”
Social media has a huge influence in this regard. It is easy to post something as truth and spread it very quickly. Due to social media’s power and its distribution being so democratic, people are very easily convinced that lies are truth. Tim Cohen writes that Twitter, Facebook and parts of Google are “unmediated, unedited.” It is in this context that all individuals are required to be more critical of apparent facts that are peddled, and to assess the veracity of political, mainstream media and social media claims.
How to spot fake images and news
The truth of the matter is that fake images and fake news are widely spread online. Fake images can be detected by using TinEye, a free extension for Chrome and Firefox browsers, as well as Google reverse and RevEye.
Twitter is an unforgiving space. Deleting a tweet will not ensure that you are exempted from being caught with egg on your face for careless and untrue claims. Parody Twitter accounts, spreading fake news, are on the rise. You can spot these by looking if the Twitter profile has a tick next to it, this means the identity of the owner has been verified.
Think before you tweet, retweet, or post/share something on Facebook.
Asking yourself a few simple questions before you tweet or post something may be helpful.
1. Has the information I want to share been verified?
2. On Twitter, double-check that proper nouns are used and that Twitter handles are spelled correctly, that hyperlinks are correct and that the tweet makes sense.
3. Remember that your name will be associated with anything you retweet or share, make sure that your source is reliable.
For more useful tips on how to verify the source, content and pictures and videos, follow this link and scroll down to the section “Verification: A Practical guide”:
In his farewell speech, President Obama spoke about the rise of the “fake news phenomenon” saying that “we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on evidence that is out there.”
In the end, the truth and seeking it, brings ultimate victory. Spreading lies, knowingly or unknowingly, is never wise and can make people look foolish. Before clicking the “tweet”, “retweet”, “share” or “post” button, a simple verification may be worth your honour. Mark Twain said “It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”