Fake news. Propaganda. Echo chamber. Statistics. Post-truth. Confirmation bias. Facts. Real stories. Hoaxes.
Who knows what to believe? One reminder from 2016 is how fragile facts can be. They can be manipulated, compartmentalized, segregated, or just drowned out. People have always pushed their own narratives, but that gets harder to do with the awful din.
Of course this has real impact, since policies have always been made on these narratives. We need good, clean data. But we also need it in the database, and databases are only as good as those doing the data entry.
Take the case ofYasmin Seweid, who admitted she made up a story about being the victim of a hate act. It's not what she did, it's the chatter that ensued that infects the data.
As an immigration lawyer, I see the fear of reporting hate acts in immigrant communities. There are cultural stigmas, fear of deportation, retaliation, re-victimization, language barriers, and a whole host of other reasons. Hoaxes amplified by social media have the potential to seriously infect the data that will be used to formulate policy - or effectively prevent any policy from forming.
The "marketplace of ideas" articulated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is supposed to lead to the truth by competition. Religions, too, have long touted the inevitability of truth. To me, 2016 has been a powerful reminder that when everyone has a megaphone, it takes longer for the truth to emerge. The math is different: even the worst ideas which historically may have remained disregarded at the fringes have a chance to take root and grow. More concerning is the very real possibility that free speech itself will be curtailed, further inhibiting the ability of the market to correct itself. Gingrich's careless rhetoric about a new version of the "House Un-American Activities Committee" is a perfect example. (Yes, I am concerned and no, I don't think it's impossible.)
Our legal system of checks and balances takes time to check and balance, and in the interim, people get hurt. Therefore, the speed with which truth emerges from the marketplace becomes supremely important.
So preach on, everyone. Keep doing what you're doing. But please keep your data clean. And push back against bad data. Push back hard, and push back now.