Word says truth is on the path to extinction. Those who claim this describe it as a recent phenomenon, a side product of the new massive and unchecked ways of spreading information. Certain groups have exploited the essential flaws of the system to their favour, the legend explains, by promoting misinformation and taking us into this grim post-truth world where the winner is that with the least scruples, the proud and brutal liar.
But how recent this phenomenon really is? How dependent, for instance, on the social networks currently at blame, or the political climate where the traditionally privileged supposedly have grown worried of their relative position regarding the (again supposedly) rising oppressed. I mean: hasn’t it always been like this? Hasn’t the establishment always controlled the flow of information and decided what was fact and what illusion? And hasn’t the establishment always represented those in power, the class on the upper end of the inequalities, as under threat by the others: the foreigners, the strangers, the weirdos, the poor, the outsiders, the resentful?
I think about this as I reflect on the problem of detecting misinformation automatically. Both as someone who cares about politics and as someone interested formally and computationally on the technicalities of truth and language this is an appealing challenge. But it has a double edge, because its popularization as a threatening monster guilty of everything that goes wrong also suggests that before the coming of these blatant champions of lying and their digital streams of fake we were safe and protected even though politicians (and in general people with (economical, political, intellectual, scientific, religious, &c.) power) have manipulated and lied very effectively to the public by using their access to media every time they can benefit from it. In a sense, the problem is not the rise of liars but that liars are not as subtle as they used to be.
My current feeling is that posing this as a technological problem that needs to be solved by better algorithms and systems that will shield us from the dishonest is yet a new more layer of self-deceit.