The Role of Truth in Post-truth Conditions

Vents Sīlis

The term “post-truth” has gained popularity due to significant changes in the way news and information are received and processed. These changes are partly due to a loss of trust in traditional news sources and the growing popularity of social media, where speaker’s subjective taste, personal attitude and evaluation play a central role.

The definition of the term in the Oxford Dictionary states that post-truth is “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. This definition does not, in fact, describe what is post-truth, but a mechanism for shaping public opinion, where the impact of the information on the audience is more important than its truthfulness, especially its relevance to the facts. The greatest beneficiaries of influencing public opinion effectively are politicians, who turn their symbolic capital – popularity and reputation – into real benefit of power and public influence.

This article will look at post-truth in relation to the distinction between truth and untruth and also at the phenomenon of bullshit, which, as a social performance, has the characteristics of fine art. The relationship between truth as a result of scientific methods and critical thinking, and post-truth as a form of denial of science and truth, which seeks to achieve a situation where an expert’s opinion is no better than a non-specialist’s opinion, giving equal status to verified facts and misinformation (“alternative facts”). The impact of post-truth, namely, propaganda and disinformation, on politics in the information technology age will then be examined. Finally, conclusions will be drawn about the role of truth in post-truth circumstances. Is  truth dead? And what impact does truth have on democracy, society, and the media?

It turns out that there are at least four reasons why post-truth is so prominent. First, expressing one’s opinion, however wrong or untrue it may be, falls within the right of free speech. Second, there are certain cognitive biases, such as the confirmation bias and the Dunning-Kruger effect. Third, public might actually enjoy post-truth rhetoric, preferring well-crafted legends to actual facts and historical truth. Fourth, in some  professions, such as journalism or politics, there are often situations when a person can’t avoid expressing themselves without knowing all the facts or having full evidence. Bearing in mind that at times we don’t match the highest standards of truthfulness ourselves, we tend to tolerate certain amount of post-truth from others.