In my column last week I discussed how the word post-truth is used with a modern meaning. Ramakrishnasayee, Principal of DAV School, Ranipet, sent me his feedback which suggested that I explain the word in simpler terms. Here is an easy-to-understand explanation. Post-truth refers to situations where information is less influential than misinformation and disinformation in shaping public opinion. Here information means fact(s), misinformation means wrong information and disinformation means propaganda or false information that is spread intentionally in order to deceive a target group.
Let me explain the meaning of the term with the example of Facebook. Real as well as fake stories are posted on FB. Facebook posts that receive many likes become popular and go viral. Consequently, fake news too goes viral and is treated as real news by FB users.
Since Facebook celebrates popularity and virality, even misinformation and disinformation is treated as information. This is considered post-truth, which uses social media to spread disinformation and make people believe falsehood as truth. Unfortunately, news that is spurious becomes popular and is treated as real. Even highly educated people cite blatant lies as facts. That is the impact of post-truth media on us.
Surprisingly, of the nine shortlisted words for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016, three words (alt-right, woke and Brexiteer) are closely associated with post-truth. The noun alt-right refers to a group of people with far-right ideologies who use social media or online memes to disseminate their reactionary views and controversial content. Alt-right, the short form of Alternative Right, has its origin in the US.
President-elect Donald Trump was projected as a supporter of alt-right during the US presidential elections but in a recent interview to New York Times he condemned and disavowed the group that celebrated his election win with Nazi salutes.
The adjective woke means ‘being alert to injustice in society, especially racism’. It is an American English term that derives from awake. A white American who is woke or who stays woke is aware of the problems the socially disadvantaged face in the community, questions the status quo and takes a convincing and outspoken stand against racism or misogyny.
The noun Brexiteer is a person who is in favour of Britain exiting the European Union. It originates from the word Brexit, which was one of the shortlisted words in 2015. The suffix –eer is added to the word Brexit to denote a person concerned with Brexit, along the same lines as engineer, mountaineer and auctioneer.What is true need not be popular and what is popular need not be true. Post-truth is all about popular versus true. If you belong to the alt-right, you aren’t woke and you support Brexit and post-truth politics.
Dr Albert P'Rayan is an ELT Resource Person and Professor of English. He can be contacted at email@example.com