Truth, lies and fake news

Source: Times Malta / / By Ray Azzopardi /

Christiane Amanpour, a renowned journalist with CNN, in an interview on ‘How to seek truth in the era of fake news’, uploaded by TED in 2017, affirms that one cannot solve the great issues facing the world if one cannot distinguish between truth and fake news. She contends that journalists cannot remain neutral when it comes to reporting facts as they are.  Though objectivity is the golden rule for journalists, when one is neutral in front of fake news, one becomes an accomplice, Amanpour asserts.

Today, with the advancement of techno­logy and with the influence that Facebook has on the global community, one can easily conclude that the greatest crisis that one has to combat is the spreading of lies, misinformation and fake news. Because of the attention, interest and excitement that such news inculcates, unless one is well-informed, one would be unable to decipher what is true and what is false.

Unfortunately, with our partisan politics, tribalism and party mentality, many Maltese are unable to think for themselves. We are so enslaved to the party we back that we surrender our own thinking and reasoning. What the party states as fact we accept without reflecting and coming to our own conclusions.

Already in 1978, Vaclav Havel, a Czech poet and playwright, who became increasingly politically active under the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, and who was eventually imprisoned for three years after the publication of his essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’, reveals in his book how citi­zens manage to lose their own identity and become enslaved to a false reality crea­ted by those in authority. In the above-mentioned book Havel sees “a crisis of contemporary technological society as a whole – a modern ‘unfreedom’ in which individuals enslave themselves because they do not ask themselves who they are and what they should be doing”, as stated in the book’s introduction by Timothy Synder.

Like Daphne Caruana Galizia, other individuals like Marlene Farrugia, Godfrey Farrugia, Edwin Vassallo and Occupy Justice dissented from the common trend of reasoning to uphold what they considered the truth

This is precisely what the internet, through Facebook and Twitter, is promoting today. Technology is making us inhuman. It is no longer making us act as individual thinkers but as masses being directed to think in a specific direction. Though alluding to television, Havel states, “we look helplessly, as that coldly functioning machine we have created inevitably engulfs us, tearing us away from our natural affiliations”. We can easily apply the above quote to the internet. Whatever appears on Facebook or Twitter is gospel truth.

As a people, we are losing our own personal identity and are succumbing to a false identity created by the media, internet and party propaganda. Havel reasons that “by the very fact individuals confirm the system, fulfil the system, make the system, are the system”. When one starts reasoning like the masses, unknowingly, one becomes an accomplice, even though, as an individual, one is in disagreement.

Last December, on the Times of Malta website, it was reported by Reuters that the German magazine Der Spiegel had fired journalist Claas Relotius, an award-winning staff writer, after finding he fabricated and invented facts in many articles in recent years. “Truth and lie are muddled in his texts,” Der Spiegel said on its website.

This is reality. This is the world we are living in and we have to learn to be on guard to verify what we read and hear. This conflict between ‘living in lie’ and ‘living in truth’ as Havel labels it, has been subtly existing with us for so many years, but today, more forcefully, due to social media. The protests that we are witnessing today all over the globe and the rise of populism is an indication that people are fed up of being taken for a ride by politicians.

Havel refers to the state of living within a lie “as a deep moral crisis in society”. The title of his essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’ refers to those individuals and pressure groups who, relentlessly and at great personal risk, fight for ‘living in truth’. Such people exist even in western democratic countries like Malta. Because they deviate from the ‘universal’ agenda they are labelled as ‘traitors’, ignored or attacked with hate speech.

Why was Daphne Caruana Galizia brutally murdered if not because, through her writing, she was able to expose all those who were ‘living in a lie’? Like her, other individuals like Marlene Farrugia, Godfrey Farrugia, Edwin Vassallo and Occupy Justice dissented from the common trend of reasoning to uphold what they considered the truth. These are individuals who are enslaved to nothing and to no one except to the truth of living as decent and dignified human beings.

Let those of us who want to live in truth be aware that among us are people who, rather than promoting what is true, are interested in putting forward their own ‘fake’agenda. This they do through the latest modern technology, thus making it possible to camouflage and distort the truth. Yes, the greatest challenge society faces today is ‘living in truth’ and combating fake news.