‘Post-truth’ was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016, but what does this mean for us as researchers and citizens? Has our society really changed its relationship with information?
Given that information is generated by people, then the problem of information bias, manipulation, spin or propaganda is not a new phenomenon. Rather this problem has an exacerbating factor that is in its relative infancy, and that is our consumption of information through social media.
An increasing percentage of the world’s population is receiving news from social media*. Our social media and wider web experience is curated through the filter bubbles and echo chambers that we create. Ultimately ensuring that we reinforce our own beliefs and view of the world – after all, it is natural to want to be amongst like-minded people.
Being at university can feel like the first moment when your ideas or perspectives are challenged – this is often uncomfortable and yet provides the basis for developing new ideas, encouraging curiosity and creating new knowledge. These experiences are essential for creativity, citizenship and, more fundamentally, for the survival of the human race.
We need to expose ourselves to a variety of viewpoints whilst also having the skills to appreciate the authority of information – can we sift fact from fake?
We may need to ask ourselves more questions: how are we receiving information about our world? Are we quick to judge the information we encounter? How well-informed are we really?
Research is about asking questions and is where we can practice this skill in negotiating the information landscape. The practice of research can provide us with the space to explore and challenge our own assumptions and therefore develop ourselves, and our contributions through employment and in society.
Rosie Enys, August 2017.
For opportunities to explore some of these issues in more depth, visit the Digital Skills section of the Study Hub