At the end of each year, Oxford Dictionaries selects a word that the editors feel is the best summation of the previous 12 months. In 2015, the “Word of the Year” was an emoji, specifically the “crying tears of joy” emoji, and was chosen because it seemed the best reflection of the general global attitude and preoccupations. To represent 2016, though, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen a word that carries with it a significantly greater weight: post-truth.
According to the Oxford Dictionaries website, post-truth is 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.” In simpler terms, the word of the year represents a situation where the emotional responses elicited by a subject are given more credence than facts and the truth of the matter, a definition which draws to mind not only the passion-filled election, but also the torrent of “fake news” that has essentially defined this campaign season.
From reports that Hillary Clinton was using a pizza shop as the base of a child sex trafficking ring to stories stating Donald Trump had a heart attack on election night, fake news — which widely encompasses any news that is deliberately fictitious — has infiltrated our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Often, these “fake news” stories have no factual basis whatsoever and only serve to inflame supporters on both sides, fostering hate and frustration in a time where we should really be working to unite and grow past our differences.
These fake news stories are spread each time we like, share or retweet a falsified report, and in doing so, we are only perpetuating a problem that has already grown large enough to be recognized by Oxford Dictionaries in their “Word of the Year” and by Politifact as their “Lie of the Year.” While many news organizations are entirely reputable, it is our responsibility as conveyers of information to be suspicious of the stories that appear on our dashboards and scroll across our screens. News media is bigger than just major news organizations. We all work to disseminate the stories and reports we read, and when we spread fake news, deliberately or unintentionally, we become part of the problem.
As we move toward Trump’s inauguration at the end of the week, it is more important than ever that we begin to rebuild the bridges burned during this tumultuous campaign season. That doesn’t mean we should stop publicly protesting issues with which we disagree or showing our support for the things we believe in, but it does mean we need to stop perpetuating fake news stories that only serve to incite anger and a sense of injustice. Fact-check news stories before you repost — it takes only seconds to Google whether or not Democrats were really reported supporting the imposition of Islamic Law in Florida. Corroborate stories on widely read or mainstream news sites — let us assure you, if something that controversial actually occurs, it will be widely reported. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t invalidate stories you disagree with by calling them “fake news” if they truly aren’t. Professional news organizations are tasked with disseminating information regardless of whether it will be popularly received: just because we don’t agree with something a story reports does not necessarily mean it isn’t true. By all means, hold the media accountable, but don’t let individual biases outweigh the facts of a situation.
While 2016 may have been the year of post-truth and fake news, we have an opportunity to move forward in the new year and a responsibility to stop our part in the perpetuation of untrue or inaccurate news. Be suspicious of the stories you see on your Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds. Don’t believe everything you read, and fact-check what you share. Hold news organizations to a high standard, if only so that the word of the year for 2017 won’t insinuate that we don’t value the truth.