In an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, the counsellor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, used the term “Alternative Facts” to defend incorrect claims made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Even as it was immediately criticised by journalists and ridiculed on social media, it probably best describes our current environment of political spin and fake news. At this point, it’s hard to know what is true or not anymore.
The Political Spin Machine
In our informational age, we have access to all the information we may wish to know at our fingertips. As a consequence, there is data to support or oppose any position. If you watch the news you are familiar with the following scene. A panel of esteemed commentators are speaking on a particular subject – the economy, healthcare, foreign policy etc. One makes a claim to support their position, citing a study or poll. Another guest makes a contradictory statement minutes later citing another poll or study. An argument ensues. At the end of the segment, there is either confusion as to what the facts are or further entrenchment in political positions. The 24 hour news cycle loves and thrives on this perpetual state of conflict as the drama increases views and site visits.
Fake News is Bad News
Fake News is appearing more and more and is especially dangerous in this age of social media. At least being subject to politically slanted information provides some real knowledge to be gained. However, being subject to completely false and misleading information with the sole purpose to deceive is detrimental to education. World Leaders, Scholars and Tech entrepreneurs are highlighting the psychological impact and dangers to society of these deceptive propaganda campaigns. What is particularly dangerous about Fake News is its ability to go viral by spoofing legitimate news websites and offering a false sense of credibility. Additionally, people (including the President of the United States) now amplify this issue by assigning the term to anything that may disagree with them. This makes everything, including legitimate information, a target for suspicion.
Solution in the Age of Alternative Facts?
The constant questioning of “Am I getting the full story here?” or “Is this true?” is healthy. Sites like Allsides provides a bias rating for news sources and stories to help reflect and identify the political leaning of information and combat polarisation. As a result, this is helpful in determining multiple sides of an issue. Also, fact checking sites like Factcheck.org and Politifact sift through incorrect stories and blatant political spin to provide better context. In my opinion, the Age of Alternative Facts is a recipe for ruin for a society that relies on its citizens to make informed decisions regarding representation and issues. As a result, it is our personal responsibility to combat it.
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
What do you think about “Alternative Facts”? Is this a cause for alarm or a passing phase?