Fake news: An outward symptom of a much deeper systemic problem
Fake news became part of our lexicon during the 2016 election cycle. Now, it’s popping up in all sorts of places as people apply it to any information with which they disagree or simply don’t like. The problem is, fake news isn’t always fake and it certainly isn’t always news. It is only an outward symptom or sign of a much deeper systemic problem.
Recently, the President tweeted:
Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017
At this point, people have three choices: believe the sender of the Tweet, believe the national polls or believe neither. Many people are fatigued enough to disconnect entirely. We can’t even begin to have a substantive discussion on a topic if we can’t even agree on the facts.
The media is not helping by publishing— and promoting— unsubstantiated stories such as the removal of the MLK statue from the Oval Office. Or by striking out so fantastically when it came to predicting the 2016 election (as the President points out above.)
Putting aside for now the issue of journalistic credibility, let’s see if we can ferret out why fake news has come so far so fast. How and why did this happen? In a time when boundless amounts of information and fact-checking are available at our fingertips, why are lies so prevalent and so seductive? I think it’s because deep down, we have never liked the truth very much.
Recently a world renowned physician, epidemiologist and statistician died. He believed that if he could help people SEE the facts they would believe the truth of the stats. Hans Rosling spent his entire life endeavoring to get people to believe by seeing. He learned along the way that people have the capacity to rationalize away and therefore deny fact-based truth even when it is presented to them visually in ways they could readily comprehend. Come to find out, comprehension is not apprehension and seeing is not believing.
Without knowing it, Hans Rosling, who was not a believer in the supernatural which he could not see, confirmed in his life’s work humanity’s sin nature. We reject truth and believe lies because they suit us. We want our choices affirmed, our biases reinforced and our worldview comfortably insulated and delusion if the necessary course outcome, then so be it.
The evidence of our human propensity to deny truth and accept lies is as old as the Garden. The Creator God gave Adam and Eve one limitation which God knew was for their own good: do not to eat of the fruit of the tree of life. Why not? Because if you do, you will die. That didn’t sound good and then another character showed up and offered “alternative facts” that the human preferred to the Truth. We know where the story goes from there: a self-deluded downhill slide into debauchery, decay and death.
Many today would protest that assessment. Having bought the lie of naturalism and humanism, people construct truth that’s relative to their life. Having rejected the reality of absolutes which comes with knowing God, individuals are left to construct meaning, morality and hope from their own experiences, relationships and ideas. They accept whatever fits their preferred version of reality and reject everything else as “untrue.” Relativism thus becomes the way of life in a post-truth culture. That’s not a left problem or a right problem, that’s a human problem. Theologians call it total depravity. Psychologists call it delusion. People just accept the current set of lies as the truth of the way things are, not knowing that this is not the way things were meant to be.
I see the fact that we’re talking about fake news as a sign of hope. At least we’re talking about the truth as something that can be known, identified, sorted out from lies. That’s progress in a culture that has embraced it’s own post-truth nature.