I want to reflect on ethics, truth and post-truth in the context of accelerated changes in the economy, politics, society, culture and digital knowledge, information and communication media, which give rise to cyberspace and the internet.
The power of a journalist, reaching millions of people from behind his computer, is controlled by national and international laws; professional norms backed by numerous journalist associations, instructions from his media and the everyday larger and commented code of ethics. And we all know about the duty-based ethics focussed on the importance of truth; the progressive ethics based of investigative journalism, and consequentialist ethics focused on society; does the article offend someone?. Can the publication of a certain issue do more harm than good, even if the facts used were correct?.
What about losing my job, or been attacked verbally and physically? but ethics light, pass by a coloured crystal of personal values, personal circumstances and his own loyalties wherever they are: to the general public, to the customers, the supporters and the subscribers, to the employer, the corporation, the colleagues and the professional community and to himself.
In the real world of reporting, ethics seen by the public or seen by the journalist, are different.
There is a different perception of ethics between the public and the journalist, and we must establish the differences between the media and the journalist's work. The public believes, that it is the journalists who is dedicated to manipulate the information, and most of the time, it is the means of the media that censures or favors the publication for financial or political reasons.
Yesterday I received a complaint from a journalist who after doing an extensive interview with the Russian ambassador representative to the OPCW about the role of his country in Syria and the use of chemical weapons in Duma, no newspaper wanted to publish.
Quality, Economy and Ethics
On the side of the journalist, it is important that they be paid well and that the expenses incurred to do their work be covered; the lack of resources makes use of second-hand information, copied from social media.
For example, last week the official visit of a president in the Netherlands was covered by the medias. To report on the official visit, a journalist I know, had to go to a city that is three hours away and the media did not paid the trip; since the journalist resolved to copying and translating the news that he found in other media and social media, which maybe they were copied in turn, the original source, the authenticity, the veracity of the interviews and the context of reality were lost, causing the journalist to fall into a lack of ethics and lack of quality of the news.
Scope of information and ethics
The limitation of resources in the media due to the economic crisis, has brought a fragmentation of the media that multiply and become smaller and sectorial, specializing in niches but with less scope; since the reader cannot read 80 newspapers per day, they better select their reading by topics. For example, we are dedicated to the diplomatic world and international organizations, with a first-class content but a limited public.
The fact that journalism no longer provides a living for people who work in the industry or invest in it, has reinforced the corruption that has always overshadowed journalism and has spawned more owners who buy up media to promote their wider political and business interests.
Working conditions in newsrooms – online and offline – are equally poor. A generation of young people in the journalism schools around the world have few quality jobs to look forward to. Some will survive as freelancers, but many, are destined for advertising, corporate communications or public and political information jobs. Now more than ever before, journalism income is not determined by attachment to a single income ow, but it is based upon creative solutions to the funding crisis and may include non-traditional funding, or a mix of civic, market and public resources.
As commercial organisations, NGO’s and governments seek to manipulate news, profit-hungry social media platforms undermine quality journalism, and political propaganda masquerade as truth, journalists' unions are campaigning for a media environment which embraces the core values of journalism.
Postmodernity has many ways from its definition to its interpretation or understanding.
What has become called post-truth, seems the resurrection of the imaginary of Jorge Luis Borges, called magical realism and that Borges published in 1935. The writer admits that it is a set of stories written, in baroque language, by an irresponsible, that gets to falsify and misrepresent other people's stories, although the stories are based on real crimes.
The writer also states that “the volume of stories is nothing more than appearance, than a surface of images; for that reason it can please the readers”. That is, to seduce them, attract them, deceive them.
For example, the text entitled "The Atrocious Redeemer Lazarus Morell," was written between 1933 and 1934, and it reinterprets and adapts to fiction the historical, economic, political, racial and cultural consequences derived from the claim of Father Bartolomé de las Casas to Emperor Carlos V, by means of which he asks to replace the indigenous labor, already in the process of extinction, by black slaves brought from Africa.
Could something be more like post-truth, than this eagerness to misrepresent the facts in order to present them to the readers, to the audience, to society as if they were true?
There are no barriers between reality and fiction, between truth and lies, between subjectivity and objectivity.
The Oxford Dictionary declared the post-truth “word of the year” in 2016. This famous word, would not have been possible without economic conditions, such as neoliberalism, the market empire and the unethical neoprotectionism; of a political nature, such as populism and radical nationalism; social and moral, such as xenophobia, the rejection of the poor for being poor and racism; of a cultural nature, such as multiculturalism; demographic order, such as mass migration flows through poverty, wars or religion and above all, technoscientific order, especially with the technological revolution and what they call "the digital world" the "network society" that chooses to use terms like cyberspace , cyberworld, cyberculture, cyberpolitics.
The liberal production and consumption system, as well as its legal-political structures, experienced in 2008 a deep fissure of an ethical nature, generated by the black September of the United States Stock Exchange. The serious economic consequences, spread like wildfire across Europe and Asia. These conditions gave rise to forms of degradation of power and the exercise of knowledge and politics, which are resolved, in a certain way, in what we now call post-truth.
From the value of the presumably false, to the presumably true; on the basis that giving up false judgments would be giving up life. Admit that non-truth is a condition of life: this means, confronting ethics in a dangerous way beyond good and evil.
The act of thinking, of asking suspicious questions and of challenging established knowledge as absolute truths, translates into the transmutation of all values characterized by the lack of ethical commitment and by the predominance of individualism and particular interests, over those of common value.
The history of truth, seen socially, has developed in close relation to reason and non-truth, has gone hand in hand with the history of the State, as a regulator of the order and guarantee of the rulers over the governed.
Under the pretext of owning the truth, chiefs of tribes, empires, caliphates, despotic, tyrannical, liberal and totalitarian regimes have been erected. However, its most accepted form has been attached to democracy as a political system. Today, and as a result of the validity of the post-political as a degradation of democracy and the ethical misery of the parties, this place has been occupied by post-truth. This phenomenon, as we stated at the beginning, would not have been possible without the technological revolution, the digitalization of information systems, production, consumption, communication and the creation of cybersociety and technocracy as an alternative to the welfare state.
Post-truth, gives rise to manipulation and discursive and political deception, based on a demagogic process of impersonation of objectivity. The post-truth has created the smokescreen in which the post-democracy is agitated, with a serious deficit of meaning in concepts, now inflated and distorted, such as the homeland, the people, the citizen, law, identity or freedom. To this is added, the indifference of politics to the facts themselves, however inhuman they may be. In addition, it gives rise to the divorce between power and politics, since the former is exercised in a global scope, while the latter is limited to national states.
It is paradoxical that, in the framework of the digital era, in political terms, the post-tactical is worshiped, and the distance to the post-right (tyranny or totalitarianism) is shortened. Hence the non-truth, that is, the false and imposter of objectivity is an unpredictable danger.
The postfactual threat promotes false arguments, involving them in moving and amplified stories in the resonance chambers of the network and digital communication, until changing behaviors and influencing the decision of the masses. These resonance chambers are, in the postfactual, controlled and activated by machines or robots and are capable of generating a huge amount of information and news through the “private superpowers” such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and others.
In the field of media communication, the worst threat to quality journalism, to honest, rigorous and respectful journalism, is the false news. The proliferation of false news that has brought “the chaos to the world of news”, at the same time, have revalued the role of the press as a reliable reference for information and to “control the abuses of power”
And we give way to securitization, as a trick of the politician. The trick, is the displacement that the governments of these times of late modernity, globalization and interdependence make of the genuine concern of the citizens, changing them for other problems. For example, given the inability to solve issues such as citizen insecurity, unemployment or growing poverty, this kind of politicians of securitization present other problems such as specular terrorism; or to confuse the problem of immigration with that of national and personal security; or an alleged international campaign to discredit the State.
Securitizing is, then, maintaining the state of affairs by using the public attention diversion resource.
Post-truth is an emotional root argument, which causes what appears to be true, to be more important than the true itself. It creates the illusion that there may be an alternative objectivity to ostensible objectivity. As its field of cultivation is public opinion, there, the post-truth makes concrete and objective facts less relevant than simply appealing to emotions or personal convictions.
Journalist Eric Alterman spoke of a post-true political environment when referring to the Bush administration's misleading arguments about the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the consequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The political language that adheres to the exercise of postmodern power uses the arguments of securitization and post-truth. After historical processes such as Hiroshima and Nagasaky, the Cold War, and most especially, 9/11 in the United States, the securitization of international relations has become, in the political and business field, a kind of “discipline from fear".
The risk of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction have made internal security an unprecedented importance in the United States and private companies, especially in sectors such as transportation, information technology, finance, health, pharma, education and oil industry who are increasingly called and committed by the State to safeguard the internal security of the nation.
The corporate environment has substantially increased the recruitment of security personnel, communication experts and specialists in digital culture, because, in addition to having to deal with the direct and collateral effects of the fear discipline, they have to deal with strategies for managing the reputational risk, constantly threatened by rumors or discredit campaigns based on false news and the non-sanctioned objectives of post-truth.
The political problem of the journalist is to know if it is possible to constitute a new politics of truth ”by changing the political, economic, institutional regime of truth production”. The truth is not something absolute or immovable. The truth is a dynamic, social, historical, scientific and political product, which is built and constitutes the heat of philosophical, ideological, economic and social disputes, which take place in a specific space and at a specific time.
The truth is power, and vice versa. Also the lie is a power.
The limits of truth and justice have been challenged, to promote an era of post-truth and post-justice, full of true lies and imagery, which seem to place us before the dilemma of having to choose between democracy or post-democracy, between elections and false referendums or Respect for laws established by consensus or social majority. Post-truth as a resource of legitimization of neopopulism has degenerated the exercise of politics and the performance of the function of the State and the rule of law, displacing rationality by emotion under a set of massive promises never fulfilled.
In today's world we are suffering from a crisis of governance, due to the neutrality of the institutional framework and the rule of law. The world is heading towards a bankruptcy of authority and the system of representation, which exhibits a democracy that is increasingly lacking in content and malleable in its essence, which puts world peace at risk.
The post-truth, are nothing more than partial truths; the post-truth is neither a lie, nor innocent, but it is not the whole truth either, according to Jordi Gracia ("Post-truth is not a lie",) the false arguments of the post-truth attempt to seduce the most economically and socially vulnerable sectors due to the effect of global toxicity virality generated by the informative and misinformation of social networks and digital platforms.
Post-truth is something that operates well beyond the reach of false news. In fact, in its twisted logic, it is much more important than something, whether true or false, it seems to be true, because this is going to be more important than the truth itself. Not only do the truths lie, but the lies lie in a sinuous, invisible and everyday dialectic that ends up being accepted as the appearance of truth.
In today's business dynamics, the market economy is giving space to the reputation economy. What it is, fundamentally, is how the reputation of a company has as much value as that of its financial assets. What is the factor that gives this relief ?: the risk factor.
The company's reputation translates into credibility and reliability of its investors, customers, employees, suppliers, public opinion and society. And in the same way that the image was preserved from the risks and dares of the advertising language, capable of making promises not completely enforceable, or, false, also the reputation must be safe from the claims subjective and axiologically neutral of post-truth and post-fact.
Building trust lies, is one of the great challenges of corporate communication. Hence the need to align, according to the approach of the consultant and communication strategist
which is to safeguard the reputational capital of the company or institution.
The characteristic, par excellence, of that environment is given at the alternative media, capable of, through a tweet, a message via Whatsapp, an Instagram or Snapchat image, or, a statement on Facebook, a blog particular or an alert to the virtual communities of LinkedIn, create a parallel public opinion, more belligerent, more fierce and less respectful than public opinion, different from the published opinion, which is structured in conventional media.
The overwhelming force of autonomy that fuels the digital turn of communication has diminished the credibility of the media, which are a fundamental support of corporate communication. The dance between non-truth and post-truth generates a space that can only lead society, as a whole, to an inadmissible predominance of chaos.
We live in the era of digital information and knowledge. But do we control the digital information or does it control us, supported by the artificial and the posthuman? Will there be an algorithm that goes ahead with the answer? Perhaps.