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The truth and beyond

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo   |   07 January 2017   |   2:15 am

new-yearCongratulations! We’ve made it through the first week of the New Year. Allow me the indulgence as my sense of accomplishment may be heightened by the mere fact that I have survived so far into the New Year in Turkey, a country which is making headlines more for terrorist attacks and explosions these days than its erstwhile economic surge. 

Gone are the days I was proud of the country considered a model nation for the Middle East and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Now the USD is at a record high, economic growth has come to a grinding halt and the nation is shaken to its core almost daily, as seen in the New Year’s Day massacre at the popular night club Reina by the banks of the Bosphorus followed only four days later by an explosion outside the courthouse in Izmir in what was meant to have been a more fatal attack if not for the quick thinking traffic policeman who died preventing the terrorists from driving through the security checks. 

Having spent the festive period in Turkey, I was able to follow the aftermath of the Reina massacre on social media. I was horrified by part of the population almost celebrating the attacks, wishing for more tragedy to befall those who drink, party and celebrate Christmas. In fact, the massacre, for them, was the climax of a month-long campaign in some parts of the town against the celebration of what was deemed a “heathen tradition” – there were leaflets distributed in parts of Turkey and billboards displaying illustrations of mobs beating up Santa Claus. For the first time ever in my country people were actually wary of celebrating New Year’s – much different from Christmas in that we rejoice at the coming of another year with all the hope it brings. The hope that was crushed at Reina within the first hour of 2017. 

Post-attack trolling on social media was in style not too far from some of the far right chatter on social media post-Brexit in the UK and post-Trump triumph in the U.S. Vile and vicious attacks on people because of their colour, creed, lifestyle was thrown around like poisonous confetti on social media – more divided in 2016 than ever. Scrolling through trending topics I came across many a vitriolic rant I wouldn’t dream of a human being uttering. This is the moment it hit me we live in the post-truth era. 

At the end of 2016, reflecting a highly charged 12 months, ‘post-truth’ was named the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionaries. Post-truth is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

2016 was the year post-truth politics became the norm. First used frequently post-Brexit, following Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential race, it was firmly engraved on our minds. 

What made post-truth, which has been in existence for the past decade, the word of the year was that in 2016 it went from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary. 

Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth became the truth and populist movements gained full force, overriding all factual information by propagating an emotive rhetoric which radicalises its audience and demonises what is perceived as ‘the other’. 

2016 incidentally was also the year when finally social media corporations such as Facebook and Twitter clamped down on fake news and trolling – too little too late.

Another social media issue is the algorithms that allow us to see the feeds which align with our views of the world – political and otherwise. For those who are prepared to find out about opposing views, this may not be a problem but what about those radicalised minds with blinkers on who lack even an ounce of tolerance for opinions not aligned to their own. Imagine an already radicalised mind constantly being fed by a post-truth feed feeding their wildest fears. 

“All Mexicans are rapists”, “all Poles are thieves”, “all Africans are illegal immigrants”, “all Muslims are terrorists”, “all foreigners are stealing their jobs…” Imagine the polarisation that is fuelled with such gross lies and exaggerations which make the misinformed Joe Blogg turn against his neighbour who is an immigrant, his boss who is a foreigner, and gradually to all those who do not share his views. 

One day we wake up to a world Britain votes to leave the EU and Donald Trump is President Elect. We wonder where it went all wrong and lament the ignorance of the common folk while the common folk, united with a populist cause and fed by fake news and gross exaggerations, celebrate their revenge against what they consider the oppression of the snobbish elite and their mainstream media. Thus continues the vicious cycle and game of polarised worldviews which no longer collide because they now exist in two parallel spheres. 

Perhaps it is time to cast off our blinkers and truly open our eyes and minds to those we often dismiss as lunatics; if we don’t, they may be the ones ruling our new post-truth world. 

 


In this article:
Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo


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