Looking for truth in the Facebook age? Seek out views you aren't going to 'like'

  • Written by Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Deakin University

This is the second article in a series in which philosophers discuss the greatest moral challenge of our time, and how we should address it. Read the first article here.

“Post-truth” was the Oxford English Dictionary “word of the year” for 2016. As we move into 2018, let’s hope the hype surrounding this term gives way to more measured assessments. The term has all the uses and disadvantages of the hyperbole it represents.

On one hand, it draws attention to the profound challenges facing today’s news media and liberal democracies. On the other, it makes it seem like we have entered into a new dystopian world where politicians no longer want or need to tell the truth, and the media is so awash with “fake news” that citizens cannot trust it.

Yet this won’t do. It is easy to imagine that Australia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, wishes that the media no longer had the will or wherewithal to report the truth. When Steve Bannon called the mainstream media the new “opposition party”, it is clear that he wanted it to be true.

Yet CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times are still trading. It is Bannon who has fallen from power. In Australia, too, media outlets continue to express biases and all the shortcomings that beset the mortal frame. Yet trying and failing to tell the whole truth, and nothing but, is a very different thing from disregarding truth altogether.

Read more: The greatest moral challenge of our time? It's how we think about morality itself

Traditional news services now face unprecedented competition in the age of the internet and social media. The need to attract large numbers of clicks favours sensationalism over serious research and partisanship over patient reportage.

Yet none of this makes truth-telling impossible. That is a claim which favours people who want to truck in half-truths and misrepresentations, and excuse themselves by saying that everyone else does it. Trump is a big fan of throwing around the term “fake news”. So is Vladimir Putin.

Nor do such challenges remove the vital role of truth-telling in sustaining open societies. On the contrary, citizens need to be able to “keep the bastards honest” more than ever, especially when they take to donning saviour’s clothing. Speaking truth to power is the great moral challenge of our time.

What’s Francis Bacon to Facebook?

At the beginning of modern scientific culture, philosopher Francis Bacon made a series of observations about how our minds work. They remain as relevant as ever in this apparent age of post-truth. For example:

The human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects, from which rays are emitted that distort and disfigure the truth.

When any proposition has been once laid down (our mind) forces everything else to add fresh support and confirmation.“

By contrast, we have a tough time accepting anything we don’t, well, "like”:

and although the most cogent and abundant evidences may exist to the contrary, yet we either do not observe or despise them, … sometimes with violent and injurious prejudice, rather than sacrifice the authority of our own first conclusions.

Looking for truth in the Facebook age? Seek out views you aren't going to 'like' Francis Bacon. Wikimedia Commons

In short: “people always believe more readily that which they prefer to be true”, rather than what happens to be true.

When it comes to prescribing his “new instrument” for inquiry, Bacon coaches his readers in how and where to actively seek out things that elude, challenge, upset or reframe their established beliefs.

So you can see what Francis Bacon is to Facebook.

Facebook generates your feed based on your past likes. Its business model figures you’ll be more likely to stay on the platform by being fed items that please rather than oppose or challenge you.

In other words, social media weaponises the “idols of the human mind”, which Bacon said prevent people from finding the truth. A Baconian Facebook would select your news items based on what you are likely to disagree with rather than playing to your prejudices.

Liberals and leftists would be made to “friend” devoted readers of Breitbart. They in turn would be fed the New York Times and the Washington Post. And perhaps the accelerating uncivil polarisation of public life would actually slow.

What’s Spinoza to sharing?

Shortly after Bacon, another modern giant, Benedict de Spinoza, also distinguished the ways we follow the prejudices and “likes” of our tribes from how he believed people should seek the truth.

We are social creatures, Spinoza observed. His Ethics deftly analyses the way our emotions and opinions “love company”. We very often do or believe things simply because others around us do. Moreover, “everyone endeavours, as far as possible, to cause others to love what he himself loves, and to hate what he himself hates”.

Share that.

Indeed, fuelled by this echoing and mirroring of our passionate beliefs, we readily jump to generalisations about whole groups, based only on whether we like or dislike some individuals:

If a man has been affected pleasurably or painfully by anyone, of a class or nation different from his own, and if the pleasure or pain has been accompanied by the idea of the said stranger as cause … the man will feel love or hatred, not only to the individual stranger, but also to the whole class or nation whereto he belongs.

Today’s social media feeds upon these characteristics, fuelling tribalism and incivility. But Spinoza agrees with Bacon that the only way to halt the hatred is to cultivate people’s awareness of their own tendencies to select, simplify and screen information.

We are not post-truth. But it is up to citizens to be alert to lies and distortions. And it’s up to our educational institutions to keep alive the many resources in our tradition which can prevent hyperbole from becoming fact.

Authors: Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Deakin University

Read more http://theconversation.com/looking-for-truth-in-the-facebook-age-seek-out-views-you-arent-going-to-like-91659

Australia Today

10 Unmissable Attractions for first time visitors to Melbourne

News Company

Melbourne, the most fantastic city in Australia! If this is your first ever travel experience in Melbourne, well it is guaranteed that you are never going to forget it. The metropolitan hub has a lot to offer to its visors, both within the city and the outskirts. There are so many attractions tha...

Read more

Grass trees aren't a grass (and they're not trees)

John Patykowski, Plant ecologist, Deakin University

Xanthorrhoea have no real trunk – just tightly packed leaves. CC BY-SASign up to the Beating Around the Bush newsletter here, and suggest a plant we should cover at batb@theconversation.edu.au.Grass trees (genus Xanthorrhoea) look like they were imagined by Dr Seuss. An unmistakable tuft of wi...

Read more

Peter Grimes is a thrilling and moving staging of the great English opera

Trevor Jones, Lecturer in Musical Theatre, Griffith University

Stuart Skelton in the title role of Peter Grimes.Brisbane FestivalReview: Peter Grimes, Brisbane FestivalPeter Grimes, one of the centrepiece events of this year’s Brisbane Festival, is a remarkable collaboration between the festival, Opera Queensland, Philip Bacon AM, the Queensland Performin...

Read more

Michelle Grattan on strawberries, Sudmalis, schools, and the au pair affair

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Michelle Grattan speaks with University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini about the week in politics. They discuss rushed legislation on strawberry contamination, the Liberals continued women problem with Ann Sudmalis’ announcement she won’t recontest her seat, the government’...

Read more

Super. If Labor really wanted to help women in retirement, it would do something else

Brendan Coates, Fellow, Grattan Institute

Labor's plan to pay super to women on paid parental leave would barely boost their retirement incomes.ShutterstockWhen it comes to the gender gap in retirement incomes, symbolism appears to matter more than actually achieving something.Labor’s plan to add super contributions to government-fund...

Read more

Is it time for Australia to be more open about research involving animals?

Tyler Paytas, Research Fellow in Philosophy, Australian Catholic University

Most people never have the chance to see how animals live in laboratories.from www.shutterstock.com The use of animals in scientific research is a complex ethical issue, and these studies typically take place behind closed doors.But since 2012, more than 120 of Britain’s universities, research...

Read more

Holidays & Travel

Things to Do and See in Ballina, Australia

The intricate coastline of New South Wales is renowned for its sumptuous, decadent beaches, hidden resorts and secret camping spots. A long and slow ride down the winding highway that...

Guide to Travel Necessities for 2018

Sure, it sounds like quite an adventure to hit an open road with nothing but a one-way ticket and an open mind, but the harsh reality is – you won’t...

Top Sightseeing Spots in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most fascinating locations for anyone to visit in the world. After all, it’s a place with a variety of unique landscapes, but it isn’t...

Must-Pack Items for a Travel Blogging Boss

As a travel blogger, you get to see and explore so many wonderful destinations and meet various interesting people, but before you embark on a new adventure you need to...

Luxury Camping Adventures Around the World

Perhaps in direct response to the dominance of technology in the modern world, many travelers are feeling a strong draw towards nature. While some are able to fully embrace their...

Dredging works underway Plantation Island

Tourists and workers travelling to popular tourist destination Plantation Island, Fiji, are set to benefit from safer access when marine channel dredging is completed at the end of June 2018...

Top 5 Tips for Traveling With Dogs

Travelling with your dog can be thrilling, but sometimes it can turn into a real nuisance. Unless you know how to properly restrain the pooch, whether it’ll be able to...

Top Island Destinations for 2018

When we picture island destinations in our minds, we often imagine a tropical beach of white sand, a sun lounger laid out in the shade of a line of palm...

Why Car Rental Excess Insurance is a Smart Choice

Some car rental agencies include basic damage cover in the standard rental fee, with the option to add on liability reduction, or excess insurance. The addition of excess insurance normally...

Fashion & Beauty

Groom To Do List

Sorry Aussie Men, you no longer just pay for the alcohol, flowers and marriage license. Times have certainly changed. Wedding Expert shares what Australian Grooms are now expected to do before...

Simple Secrets To A More Confident Smile

We all know just how important first impressions are. After a handshake, what’s one of the first things people will notice about you? It’s your smile. A friendly smile is...

Improve Your Body Confidence and Feel Great

No matter how good you feel about yourself, sometimes you just can’t help but see a few little flaws that seem gigantic to you and make you feel self-conscious. Whether...

First-Timer Tips For Your First Lip Filler Appointment

Getting injectable lip fillers can be a quick and effective way to plump up your smile with minimal drama. They’re a cost-effective and safe way to boost the natural shape...

The Most Common Skin Conditions and How to Deal with Them

We often underestimate the importance of our skin, but as the largest organ in our body, and our primary layer of defense, it is constantly affected by many environmental factors...

Beach Babe Basics: Everything You Need to Look Stylish at the Beach

Summer is right around the corner, and this year, we all should make the best of it. Right now, it is not just about looking stylish on the streets, it...

HEALTH

Virectin Reviews and Results (LATEST) - Honest Review

Virectin is a potent, natural male enhancement supplement, recommended to all those who are interested in improving their sexual performance. According to the manufacturers, it can provide a positive effect...

How to Choose the Best Lasik Surgeon?? It’s as easy as it can get!

Whether you have had a vision problem since childhood, or you have developed one recently, eye surgeries are the answer to all your problems. It can be anything, ranging from...

Laser Liposuction: The Myths and Facts

Laser liposuction is a revolutionary new way to get rid of unwanted fat without the downtime experienced with traditional liposuction. This procedure offers a number of amazing benefits and is...

How To Show Your Elderly Relatives Love

At every stage of our lives, there’s one thing we truly need above all else: love. As our elderly parents, grandparents, or other relatives we care about grow older, it...

9 Ways to Recognize the Early Signs of Dementia

Dementia is a condition that is, unfortunately, very present among our elderly population. What makes this fact even worse is that, in spite of our best intentions and will to...

Co-Occurring Disorders and Overcoming Addiction

Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, refer to the combination of substance abuse and the presence of a mental disorder.  Many individuals who enter treatment for substance abuse are...

LIFE STYLE

Should You Repair Or Replace Your Air Conditioning Unit?

Whenever the summer arrives to the hilt and you feel that your air conditioning isn’t up to the mark, there is always one question that pops up into your mind...

6 Rug Trends That Will Boost Style and Comfort in Your Home

If you want to break up that boring and colorless look of your home, one of the easiest and quickest ways is to throw in a rug! Check out these...

Put your problems to rest with Antenna Genie

When the idea of television was first being tested, Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox famously remarked that “no one would want to stare at a plywood box every night”...

Top 5 Design Trends in Commercial Interior

Commercial buildings include offices, restaurants, hotels, etc. and their design can play a crucial role in all the important aspects of a business such as brand reinforcement, customer engagement and...

Add a little colour to your move - and life!

How a little ‘colour’ and planning can take your Move, and make it a more enjoyable one Colour plays a huge role in our lives, it can take us up, or...

6 Simple Rules for Redesigning Your Kitchen

How do you feel about your kitchen? Well, if you feel like your home needs a bit of lifting up, one of the best and most effective places to start...

FOOD & DINING

Morning greens: the breakfast skincare regime

It’s safe to assume that most Aussies fail to eat enough greens. Although this was momentarily resolved with the rise and popularity of the green juice movement, the lack of...

Best Hidden Gem Hong Kong Restaurants

You finally find yourself enjoying the endless beauties of China and this fascinating city. In a place with so much variety, all your senses will be wide awake, and your...

JOHNNY DI FRANCESCO NAMED OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR OF EAT STREET MELBOURNE

Johnny Di Francesco, world champion pizzaiolo and owner of Melbourne’s Gradi Group of restaurants, is excited to announce he has been named official ambassador for Eat Street Melbourne 2018. As Ambassador...

The best Mother's Day gift EVER!

Whether it’s to celebrate a special occasion, or just wind down at the end of a long day, there’s nothing much better than pouring yourself a glass (or two…) of...

Sing for Your Supper at Chargrill Charlie’s

To celebrate the final curtain call of the Barden Bellas, Chargrill Charlie’s is giving you the chance to Sing for your Supper! Show off your best acapella vocals to win...

MAKE IT WINE TIME, ANY TIME

Whether it’s to celebrate a special occasion, or just wind down at the end of a long day, there’s nothing much better than pouring yourself a glass (or two…) of...