Suzanne Harrington

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Who needs facts when we have social media?

Hello and here is the fake news. Well, some of it is fake, and some of it is not. You’ll just have to figure it out – using your emotions. Because that’s what we do now. Who needs facts and experts when we have feelings and social media? asks Suzanne Harrington

Who needs facts when we have social media?

So here goes. Donald Trump’s former butler Anthony Senecal, the evil twin of Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth, was last year investigated by the US Secret Services for posting death threats about Obama. Senecal was Trump’s closest personal servant – squeezing the despotic toothpaste onto the tyrant toothbrush – until 2009. He thought Obama should have been electrocuted or hanged, and referred to the ex president as a ‘Kenyan fraud’ presiding in the ‘White Mosque’. Senecal, which sounds like a laxative for seniors, also said that Trump once claimed the tiles in the nursery at Mar a Lago, Trump’s Florida beach club, were personally made by Walt Disney. When Senecal disputed this, Trump replied, “Who cares?”

Actually, none of that is fake, apart from Senecal being related to Batman’s Alfred. Who cares? Not the American public, who voted for Trump. The £350 million a week that goes to the EU instead of the NHS in Britain – that was fake too. Who cares? Not half of the population who voted for Brexit. They are too busy hating foreigners they have never met.

There are no facts, only interpretations, said Nietzsche, a century before the existence of social media and its algorhythmic ability to disseminate bullshit faster than you can type ‘verification required’. We don’t care. We just want to feel – angry, jubilant, superior, included, outraged, whatever. Don’t ask us to think too hard, because our heads are spinning from the information tsunami that hourly engulfs us. Screw facts. Perception is all that matters.

“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world,” wrote Orwell in 1942. “For all practical purposes the lie will have become truth.” This was, says journalist Matthew D’Ancona in his new book Post Truth, an early premonition of the so-called post-truth era. Or “truthful hyperbole”, as Trump, the first post-truth president, might call it, which translates to “lying”. Or ‘alternative facts’.

Trump and Brexit are the result of post-truth politics – “ the triumph of the visceral over the rational, the deceptively simple over the honestly complex”, writes D’Ancona. Facts, schmacts – who wants to wade through analysis and statistics when there are emotive catchphrases (make blah-blah great again) to be chanted and roared? We don’t want to think, we want to feel.

Obviously, populations have been deceived by hyperbolics since forever. Recently, there has been no attempt to hide such deception; the tycoon Arron Banks, who bankrolled the Brexit Leave campaign, spelled it out. “The Remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You’ve got to connect with people emotionally.” Trump and Brexit are the symptoms, not the causes, of our post-truth world. And what created such a world? We the people. We did. It is ours.

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