2016 was a momentous year. A watershed.
History may look back on it as the point where we all woke up to the power of social media as propaganda, or the point where the role of good journalism in digging out important stories, establishing the truth and educating the world to that truth became irrelevant.
In the UK for example we had the spectacle of the “leave” campaigners touring in a bus emblazoned with a claim that was blatantly wrong, deliberately misleading, and of course undelivered in the period following the vote. Our media failed to express sufficient outrage (partly due to the vested interests they represent) and experts who demonstrated the “truth” were dismissed as irrelevant and unreliable. Opinion was more important than reality.
I’m not close enough to the American political system to comment in detail about Trump’s rise to power, but it seems that something similar happened. Regardless of which group he demonised, insulted or ignored, the electorate seemed ready to ignore that in favour of promises and dreams with no underpinning detail about how they would be delivered.
Is the world so full of woe that we find fantasy a more palatable alternative. Has this become Marx’s opiate of the people? Perhaps the global response to Game of Thrones was a clue.
Last year I went to Croatia for a marriage ceremony. Or rather I didn’t. Over the summer a number of events in Jane’s life brought sufficient pressures that we cancelled our civil ceremony in this country. We had planned to follow that with a symbolic event in Croatia with close friends in attendance, and so rather than cancel everyone’s summer holiday we went ahead with this event that was intended to symbolise our relationship.
We had a great location, local musicians, fantastic weather, and lots to eat and drink. What we didn’t have was a marriage and perhaps with that knowledge the pressures that had been building before the event took their toll, and in the weeks after our return, even our friendship cooled, sputtered and eventually ended. (Jane did agree to my posting this)
What has that to do with fake news?
In the midst of all of this, one of my daughters posted her pictures from the Croatia trip to Facebook. One of which showed Jane & I in character as bride & groom.
Twelve months later and people still ask how married life is treating me. The power of a single Facebook posting supplanted the reality. I wonder how many times that has happened in the more important events that have, and continue to take the world by surprise? Are we just so lazy that a photograph or an internet meme becomes sufficient evidence upon which to base important decisions? Do we accept what we see with our eyes instead of engaging our brains?
Imagery is powerful and it was Facebook’s reaction to an image that saw me suspend my profile there, when they blocked a post by the Norwegian Prime Minister that incorporated the famous “Napalm Girl” image. Mr Zuckerman’s people simply saw child nudity. If the original publishers of that image had also taken such a superficial view then one of the most influential images of the Vietnam conflict would never have seen the light of day.
Perhaps it stems from our leadership.
Maybe the day will come when Trump explores the facts before he reacts it will serve as an example to the world. I’m not holding my breath.
Thanks to Dani McLachlan who was the Sorcerer’s Apprentice capturing some of these shots on the day. She even made me look ok!