Blaise Tapp: Searching for facts in a post-truth world

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As we limp towards the end of an extraordinary year we are left with many things with which to remember it by.

Names and words such as Aleppo, Trump, Leicester City and Brexit will be forever associated with 2016 but for many it will be known as the beginning of the post-truth era.

Initially, that adjective rang a wee bit hollow as those who complained about the proliferation of whoppers tended to be on the losing side whether they were Remainers or fully paid up members of Team Hillary.

But it soon became clear that there were large numbers of people who were willing to ignore clear untruths and go with their hearts when making a decision on how to cast their vote. It wasn’t long before post-truth became a thing and by November it had been named as the international word of the year. That hyphen came in handy.

But now post-truth hysteria has morphed into the phenomenon which is fake news – one of the reasons why millions believe that America will have to wait at least another four years for its first female president. Social media went crazy for tales which suggested that Pope Francis had throw his weight behind Trump’s bid for the White House along with Oscar winner Denzel Washington. Neither were true.

There are scores of websites now dedicated to made up stories, such is the gullibility of the modern day news consumer, and they are big business with some sites making thousands of pounds each month. They are able to do this when readers view these stories by the millions and now they have become so popular that Facebook has introduced a series of measures which will allow its 1.8 billion users to flag up a story which they think iffy.

The corporation which keeps you up to date with what people you haven’t seen in a decade are having for dinner has also taken the step of bringing in fact checkers if a story really stinks.

The trouble is now that every story, even the most heart warming, is subject to scrutiny. The most high profile to fall foul of the scrutineers appears to be Father Christmas himself – or rather a Tennessee-based typecast actor who told his local newspaper about the dreadful moment that a terminally five-year-old died in his arms. If he wasn’t busy enough at this time of the year, this incarnation of Santa is under the full glare of global scrutiny after the paper which originally published the story later cast doubt on its veracity. He says he withheld the name of the dead child and where he died out of respect to the bereaved family but the newspaper in question knew that when they printed the original story.

The man in the red suit has been hung out to dry but the standard has been set so expect the world to go fact checking crazy over the coming months.

Getting the story right has always been the number one aim of every journalist I have ever worked with. Despite the fears to the contrary, there is still a huge appetite for the truth.

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