We have all heard of fake news

Author: Izan Coronciuc

We have all heard of fake news. Undoubtedly, globalisation and democratisation have played an important role in promoting it. We cannot fail to bear in mind that fake news is a social phenomenon, but no social phenomenon exists independently of the entire social system of which it is part.[1]

Thus, we can consider that the idea of fake news is accompanied by what Charles Taylor called the (ethical) culture of authenticity. According to Taylor[2], the concern with authenticity would not begin until the 18th century: ‘It is assumed that there is a certain way of being human, which is mine. In formulating this originality, I define myself by realising a potentiality that is mine alone’. This is what we might consider to be the background for understanding the modern ideal of authenticity and the goals of self-realisation.

What is most relevant is that authenticity has become culture, and therefore normative.

The modern era began with the idea that a man is what he becomes; the body is a project, health is a business plan, the state of mind is a matter of self-control, and so on.

Under the seductive effect of the market, individuals have begun to believe this and to internalise this responsibility for happiness.

Happiness became an obligation. Governments started to talk about well-being instead of happiness, and happiness became an economic indicator. The teleological evolution of humanity towards progress and well-being is thus limited to the present development of the individual towards self-fulfilment and happiness.

The ideal of authenticity liberates that emotional component and places it in a dominant position over spirituality and reason, which for so long have been the only instances of the full human being. Thereby, we enter the realm of the emotional, where we live authentically and faithfully; and where we no longer communicate, but we express ourselves. None of this would have been possible without the fast-moving media revolution.

It took mankind millennia to move from oral to written expression, centuries to move from written to visual communication, but only decades to move to what is today’s new digital form of communication.

Not only the Internet has contributed to this, but also the fusion of a telephone (the oral), a typewriter (the written) and a camera (the visual): the result is today’s most banal and intimate object, the smartphone, which brings together, within everyone’s reach, all the essential communication systems invented by humanity throughout its history.

This digital communication, in a constant process of change and development of its technical means, has also had an effect on the understanding of truth, deepening the conflict between generations, or, more precisely, the change of its nature.

Quite simply, the children’s generation no longer speaks the same language as their parents’; and the gap is narrowing as the pace of technological change accelerates. Reason enough for any emerging generation to seek its own benchmarks of authenticity and truth.

State and market institutions, through the media, have been instrumental in promoting “the truth”. They have promoted at their will, “good news” (e.g. the ideology of happiness and positive thinking), “bad news” (e.g. the industry of fear) and the disturbing “fake news”, so that nobody really knows what the reality is anymore, but everyone reacts according to their spontaneous image of it.

The latest crisis has taken most people by surprise. It was wrapped up in a confusing series of good/bad/fake news, so that no one can know what the real cause was, but everyone has felt the real effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: the falling standard of living and the increasing insecurity. As a result, it is perceived as the dissatisfaction grew everywhere, one of the possible main effects of which was a decline in trust in authority (whatever that might be). In general, trust in people, but above all in institutions – first and foremost in the state and the media – is plummeting.[3]

What is left in these conditions? Our own sincere and genuine emotions. These are picked up and amplified by social networks, which generate their own universe of “truths”.

A universe that politics can exploit to its advantage.

Author and historian John Lukas said: when politics abdicate reason and truth (at least as universalist ideals and criteria), populism takes over, using the emotions of the “people” and amplifying them to serve its own interests.

And who are the people? Is it the electoral majority? It is, of course, a criteria, but this majority is increasingly made up of emotional crowds who choose the lesser evil, who vote  against “rather” than “in favour”. Citizens, all of them? They should be, but the divisions among them are less and less doctrinal, ideological, which makes democratic negotiation of conflicts more and more difficult. In these conditions, populism, which speaks the language of emotions, inevitably gains strength.

If you follow the We-Europeans project closely, you will have the tools to stop the advance of populism, and with that, as people, we all win.


[1] Mottola, S. (2020). Las fake news como fenómeno social. 

[2] Ruiz Schneider, Carlos. (2013). Modernity and identity in Charles Taylor

[3] World Values Survey Wave 7: 2017-2022.

Bibliography

We have all heard of fake news
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