Time and again we hear about fake news, our era is even called the “postfactual age”.
The digital media are often cited as the reason for the beginning of this new era.
Proof of this would be the posts of our friends in the social media, where they would make their lives more beautiful for the public.
There, bad marriages are presented as a refuge of security, unsportsmanlike people post pictures of mountain tours, bag-pickers become gourmet chefs, wrinkles are retouched away and the annoying little offspring become magical geniuses – in the world of Twitter and Co.
But – is that enough to speak of an epoch of lies?
Presenting oneself and what we do in a more attractive way is not a phenomenon of our digital age. We have already played roles in the analogue age, as the sociologist Erving Goffmann illustrates in his book “Wir alle spielen Theater”.
The presentation to the outside world is even part of our identity and has always been part of the social work of people.
Seen in this light, our digital identity is no more than another role on the stage of our lives. So there is basically no digital or analog identity, we are now only expanding our overall identity into the digital realm.
We ourselves, in all our divergent roles, are quasi walking alternative facts.
Consensus on what is true. Basically, what a group of people has perceived and felt uniformly is considered true and truth. In court proceedings, for example, a concordance of memories during witness questioning is relentless.
But even the scale of these collective memories does not really hold up – is often not objective enough either.
Because – our memory deceives us! She plays with us – likes to make fools of us.
The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has proven this with impressive experiments. Loftus has been researching for almost 50 years how to trick human memory. After all these years of research, she has come to the sobering conclusion that our memories often have little to do with the events we actually experienced.
It proves that, especially in complex and emotionally charged issues – some of which are undoubtedly circulating in the social media today – the truth is distorted in our minds. This distortion is happening on a massive scale today, in the digital age, because so many people use it.
One more reason to turn to the work of Gustave Le Bon, “Psychology of the Masses” from 1895. In it, the author explains that crowds of people can best be moved by visual impressions, words and phrases. Like children, masses are particularly receptive to pictures and stories. The more colourful and vivid the better. What age would be more suitable for this than the digital one? The digital world simply multiplies a circumstance that was already in place over a hundred years ago. Here masses of people with pictures and stories come together.
We do not live in a “postfactual” time, we live in a time of “digital emotionalisation”.
Thousands of animal videos enjoy great popularity in the digital media because they grab us where our main interest lies, in our emotions. In the digital world, political and social issues are also increasingly tainted with emotions and imagery. Does this possibly happen at the expense of truthfulness because we can no longer see the facts in all our emotions?
The age of truth and facts – was there a factual age?
I think that the explanation that emotionally charged content is spreading rapidly in the digital world is not enough to describe our time as postfactual. If we take a look at history, the results are rather sobering.
Obviously it never existed, the factual era of absolute truth.
Our already fallible perception of the truth has been distorted for some time by propaganda, manipulation and disinformation.
The lie press.
The journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer bought “New York World” in 1883 and made it the first modern newspaper. With this new mass medium, the concept of the lie press also first appeared in the 19th century. The term as a whole means that the media manipulate the population.
The accusation of lying is itself almost exclusively an instrument of manipulation and disinformation: During World War I, national intellectuals and journalists in the German Reich used the term. The communist GDR uses this title for propaganda against the West. The historical list could be named forever. Today the AfD, for its part, uses the term “lie press” to unsettle and manipulate the population.
The one who points his finger at the media is presenting himself as the advocate of truth. Mostly wrongly, as a glance at history shows.
With the explosion of print products, conspiracy theories are also exploding. No wonder, then, that they are experiencing a further exponential increase in the digital age.
Religious communities as a place of truth?
Faith and myths are an “anthroposophical constant”, as sociologists like to call it. They simply belong to the human race – since prehistoric times people have been connected by myths and common values. Because only shared stories make it possible for us to define and follow the rules of our community as true. How much these common truths can vary, however, becomes clear from the religious wars of the past and present. A common faith is nothing more than the agreement on a valid truth. The form becomes the content here. In his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, Yuval Noah Harari describes world religions as ancient fake news that made us build our civilization.
We agree on one truth, always have.
We tell the stories of our values to people at the right moment and so credibly that millions of other people also believe them to be true. World religions like Christianity and Islam have thus successfully spread their messages and are valid truth for many people.
That is why it is still called: faith!
But faith in a common truth has led people to unite and shape our world. The way we’re experiencing them today.
The uncomfortable truth is that we are not just now living in an age of fake news. We have been doing this since we began to exist as humans.
We have always invented stories and made history with them. The only thing that will save us from moral decay is the intention not to harm anyone with a lie: Regardless of his origin and faith.
We can use digitisation to connect benevolently with the rest of the world and begin a new era of historiography – or to accuse each other of lying and thus destroy each other.
We have the technical possibilities – and the choice. The choice to tell our stories for the benefit of all and thus herald a turning point in human history.
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