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Understanding the true meaning of trust in the post-truth era



Credit: Ales Nesetril/Unsplash

What does it really mean to have trust in what you see in 2023 and beyond? Deep fake video, fake news, polarisation in political discourse, the list of types of content, and worrying developments could go on and on. The result? All of these components are now adding up to make it so that two sides no longer simply disagree and debate their differences — they instead just dismiss everything they don’t automatically agree with as a lie. What we’re going to do is find a way forward.

Creating a checklist

What we want to show you in this short article is a framework you can use to figure out whether or not what you’re seeing is trustworthy or not. The idea is that by being able to come to a balanced and reasoned conclusion, you will be able to keep your mind open in a world where tribalism and factionalism are increasingly common.

Starting the search for truth

The first thing we need to consider is the nature of the source we’re consuming. One of the problems with the post-truth era is that anything seen as ‘mainstream’ is automatically dismissed because of the idea that it has an agenda to push. While every news source will have its own biases and drivers, dismissing everything in the mainstream and only trusting user generated content is a slippery slope. After all, is it not the case that an individual can have vested interests and their own biases too? Of course it is, which is why we need to begin our search for truth on level ground.

Thinking about the media we’re consuming and why each piece of content is structured in the way it is provides a whole host of insights. We need to think about which we trust more: A video of something shot in real-time, or a post written two days later. Before deep fake videos emerged, this was a simple one to answer — 99% of us would choose the video as the more trustworthy source — but what do we do now? We look from multiple angles…

Covering different views and arguments

Are we seeing something that’s been reported by multiple sources and accounts, or are we looking at clickbait spun from a single post or image? While 100 people stating something is correct doesn’t mean it’s automatically right, it does show there’s a groundswell of opinion. But as opinions are never in perfect alignment from one person to the next, it’s important to look for dissension in the ranks.

As a species we’re never in 100% agreement about anything, unless what we’re being shown is some form of concerted effort to sway opinion. Looking for a natural spread of opinion, as well as strength of feeling, will give you an idea as to whether what you’re seeing is real or fake. If in doubt, look for a more credible source or simply reserve judgement until one is forthcoming.

Understanding why you’re being shown something

The major stumbling block the digital age has placed in its own path is the echo chamber. Gone are the days when we thought we would have access to every view at all times and that human discourse would aggregate and arrive at some form of highly reasoned, nuanced and balanced judgement. Today, clicks and traffic are king.

What does this mean? It means that if you’re forever searching for a particular view on a topic, search engines and social feed engines will try and show you more content just like that. In short, the internet you see is very different from the internet I see. Let’s take a simple example.

I’m worried about rising hooliganism happening in football stadiums around the world — whether it’s actually happening is irrelevant, I’m worried about it. You, on the other hand, are a lifelong football fan who has seen the benefits the game has to offer. I get shown more content about rioting and violence, while you get shown more feel-good content about personal growth and the power of the game to bring about change.

Remembering the difference between disagreement and lying

Once we’ve considered the nature of the source, the type of content, the range of voices and the role of content ranking; we need to remember what it means to be human.

In today’s highly charged and polarised world, the difference between disagreement and lying has never been more blurred. What we all need to consider is that the person we’re speaking to, watching, or listening to, knows something we don’t. There is every chance we will still disagree with what they’re arguing for even if we had access to all of their information, but to dismiss anything new they bring to the table without considering it is to turn your back on the truth.

At best it results in an argument about who is telling the truth, and at worst it closes off your mind to the gradual self-correction that’s vital for making progress. Assuming that the person you’re interacting with is aware of something you’re not will allow you to keep an open mind and hear them out. Take time to weigh up what they have to say and then consider how you can rebut it, or if you need to reframe how you’ve been thinking.

Being able to trust what you see online has always mattered, and yet in 2023, it’s never been more difficult. Something like checking what a politician said at a recent conference, looking up a car’s service history, or finding a casino UK players can trust should be a matter of searching the right term. The purpose of this article is to give you a framework that will allow you to spot the red flags that inaccurate and misleading information creates.

Turn the deployment of this process into an instinctive reaction and you’ll be opening your mind up to a whole wealth of information.

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