Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shifting sands in the Post-Truth Era

by Rick Blechta

“Oh, look—he must be from one of those fake-news outlets.”
We are now living in the Post-Truth Era.

What is going on all around us, in the “legacy media” (the old “standard” broadcast networks and newspapers), the newer online media (websites with a journalistic mandate), and of course, social media makes it hard to keep track of what is real and what has been made up.

It’s not just a phenomenon in the USA. Fake-news* is all around us. The spread of “alternative facts” is mostly facilitated in social media. I’ll bet if you’re online either with Twitter or Facebook or some other aggregating site, you’ve unwittingly spread false news yourself. I know that I have — much to my embarrassment.

It’s easy to have it happen. You read an article, sometimes from what you would consider a reliable source. You’re shocked and decide that you should help spread the story further. You actually think you’re performing a public service. I don’t care what you’re political persuasion is, either. The “alternative fact-sters” can make their work pretty darn convincing a lot of the times.

Now we get to crime fiction. Whether you’re a producer of it or a consumer, there exists an unspoken covenant between us all. Unless you want to risk the ire of readers, writers have to “play fair”. In a nutshell, this means a writer can’t magically reveal a bad guy from a closet at the end of a story: “Yes, I did it, but you didn’t know a thing about me until my existence was revealed in the last chapter!” Frankly, I doubt a manuscript with this sort of “dodge” in it would get by any reader — professional or otherwise — long before it would ever see print. And if it did, I can foresee rioting in the crime writing community streets. Writers have to be trusted by readers. If readers have no chance of solving the mystery as the story winds through to its conclusion, the whole construct collapses. We all know this.

“Post-Truth” media, politicians, anybody who produces or spreads falsehoods are no longer playing by the rules. If you can’t trust what you read, you can always do research, but now you have to suspect even those sources. We are getting perilously close to the point where a thinking person will not be able to trust anything unless they experience it personally. That is a really terrible thing.

Why can’t the real world play like we denizens of the crime writing world do in our made-up one?

*As for what “fake-news” actually means, I offer this article based on the work of the journalist who actually coined the term (not what the term has morphed into): https://www.thestar.com/opinion/public_editor/2017/02/17/the-facts-about-fake-news-public-editor.html

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