Seventy eight percent of statistics are made up. In 2016, half of the news you read was, too

People are reflecting on how crazy and unpredictable the last twelve months have been, with so many political curveballs and so many greats taken away from us.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that David Bowie has established a better alternate universe and is populating it selectively one by one,” one Twitter user wrote. Ninety one thousand people seemed to agree, retweeting the theory, dreaming of a utopia where we could listen to Last Christmas and watch Singin’ in the Rain without being reminded of how cruel fate can be.

2016 feels a lot like the “Factors that led to [insert catastrophe here]” question on Leaving Cert history exam papers. The type of question that would fill a candidate with glee, because there’s so much material. It is easy to look at death and destruction and conclude that we’re hurtling towards an inevitable apocalypse, with Putin and Trump set to have a locker room, nuclear war-related game of Chicken over the next few years. And if that is not the end of the world surely a lack of Great British Bake Off might just finish us off.

This year will be forever deemed the year a post-truth society was born. Debates between Hillary and Trump in October revealed that voters would rather see a medical from Hillary than tax returns from Trump. The televised debates were treated like rap battles, with audiences hollering and cheering each time Trump said something outrageous, but remaining silent whilst they discussed boring stuff like policies and accusations of sexual assault.

Tabloids and broadsheets alike led with the personality-over-policy angle during the US election trying to attract consumers and it somewhat worked. People watch political news because they are engaged in the horse race aspect, clearly depicted in the fact that Fox News received better ratings than ESPN in the last six months. Audiences awaited whilst the competitors pummelled one another’s egos with accusations and occasionally voters observed opinion polls to morally assuage themselves that they were responsible citizens.

Spoof news sites such as The Onion and Waterford Whispers News suffered in 2016 as genuine newspapers and gossip sites started also publishing completely fabricated stories! These articles had catchy, dishonest headlines like ‘Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America’ and ‘Pope Francis shocks the world, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement’. The idea is that news websites operate on a “clickability” basis. The more traffic on your website, the more adverts are viewed, the more money is made. All bad things in the world come down to money and fake news is no exception.

Fake News is not only manipulative and condescending towards the public, it is dangerous. Twitter ironically adopted the tagline “It’s What’s Happening” in 2016. Twitter is definitely not what’s happening because you could not possibly cage this beast of a year into one hundred and forty characters. Moreover, influencers use fake news, clickbait and controversy to distract from the dreaded truth.

For instance, thousands reported on the protest towards Mike Pence as the cast of Hamilton voiced concern about his policies at their performance. Trump tweets “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” and the sensationalist media goes wild. Meanwhile, Trump loses a $25 million fraud settlement and nobody seems to notice.

Are we, ‘the Snowflake generation’, so stupid that one tweet can distract us from the truth? Was anyone even talking about the fraud settlement? Here lies the crux of the matter: consumers will only follow news outlets or influencers that they are aware of on social media. They might see the perspective of a peer, but arguably they would not be peers if their views were radically different. Hence, their feed is largely one-sided. The internet cultivates citizens who consider themselves informed because they are constantly taking in new information but the danger lies in the fact that they will never find something that they are not looking for.

Gorilla-killing 2016 revealed that the world does not really care for the numbers, the statistics, or the truth. They wanted to read about how Hillary is a drug-addicted, murdering head of a paedophile ring. In 2016, you could print lies onto the side of a bus, parade it around the country and then deny you ever said it only hours after you get your own way. That is “What’s Happening”, Twitter. That is the world we live in.

-By Grace Kieran 

Image from Jon S. on flickr

 

 

 

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