2021: Has Truth Become an Oligarchy?
There is no denying the fact that we live in the information era. Keeping yourself updated with the ongoing trends and updating your knowledge bases with the latest times has arguably never been easier than this in all of history. But something that remains widely debated to date is whether all of this convenience is bought at the cost of the verifiability. As more and more consumers become commentators or contributors to the already vast knowledge base, the objective truth becomes harder to distinguish from mere speculations. But a paradigm goes beyond all this which questions the very construct of the information we curate and consume. The truth, in a practical construct, is often dictated by what the mass opinion about a particular facet of society is. So when there is enough influence to shape the very construct of public opinion and thereby the truth itself, accountability is a big responsibility.
Truth in current events: A dystopia
Is it possible to have an oligarchical construct of truth in the modern day? Worse yet, are we already living in one? With a steadily decreasing amount of credible sources for an “always online” populace, how easy or difficult would it really be to manipulate actual facts? And how does one stop truth from becoming an oligarchy in such times? If anything the recent times had taught us, it might not be quite that difficult after all.
Most of the time, selectivism of reliable sources helps create a very small and risky sinkhole with the power to manipulate public opinion. Buy or threaten the minority that the public shortlists and hails as the verified sources of the objective truth, and that’s pretty much it- you’re now in control of what everyone’s opinion of you or your actions is. Reading all of this and trying to draw parallels with current events is enough to drive anyone into at least a bit of paranoia. And we’ve seen this happen before! Early 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic, a study published by The Lancet was hailed as true completely, and even the possibility of the lab leak theory was completely censored which might or might not have been true. Eventually it was found out that there were some discrepancies in the very report that was used as a fact checking measure, and questions were raised regarding the authority of the doctors. Eventually, the infallibility of the article being used as a fact checking measure were questioned and most people suggested keeping an open mind instead of accepting the study as fact by virtue. Incidents like this show us that the reliability of not only sources but even fact checking sources must be verified from time to time too
How Truth might become an oligarchy
But this paradigm is a bit fundamentally flawed which seems to be overlooked a lot of time amidst all the debates on fear mongering-precisely how much of it is actually being done these days. The control of the truth is not as basic and one dimensional as some of it might seem on social media. What the theory doesn’t take into consideration is the fact that social media, while accounting for and driving a major portion of the public opinion, is not all of it. It fails to take into consideration aspects like word of mouth, fact checking authorities, or even alternative media consumption practices for that matter. It must be kept in mind that even fact checking authorities are divisible and not infallible. We’ve seen this happen during the 2020 US presidential elections, with a lot of tweets being marked as misinformation and the conundrum that followed. All of this points to the fact we must remember, the truth exists in isolation as different facets and not a whole concept by itself.
One must also keep in mind that verifiability is also growing much more difficult gradually, accounting to the fact that conspirators can easily and more believably morph data according to their whims. Authorities are racing against time to crack down on the sources of such operations, but the speed at which these things spread is unparalleled for the most part. Another factor that might deceptively/unknowingly help build an oligarchical institution is propaganda. Internet literacy is still a taboo term on most of the internet and a lot of the abuse of power comes from knowledge of this. Starting an online movement and trend is a child’s play today and that not only practically demolishes and outright creates what the public perspective of the truth is, it can also be an influential tool in manipulating the gullible. This basically emphasises the importance of alertness and awareness while consuming news pieces/collecting data. This theory might sound similar to the illuminati theories that used to circulate on the internet a few years ago, but they don’t seem nearly far-fetched enough to sound that conspiracy theory-esque either. We have seen public opinion be widely influenced by polarising thought that is allowed to be posted on pages with influential followings, and there needs to be some amount of control that is exercised over who is allowed to post and access what kinds of information.
How do we stop power concentration in matters of factual data?
On paper, the proposed solutions to these things like self regulation and verification before taking a stance seem simplistic enough. In practicality however, they might not be as executable as they sound on paper, primarily because most people desire quick news bytes, where verifiability or responsibility is thrown to the wind more often than not. While censorship might seem like a viable option to curb the misuse and abuse of power by the ones at the top, it's a double edged sword by itself as rampant censorship might just end up backfiring by favouring this very selectivism of the control of opinion and truth, making the entire situation self defeating. Most people often hail censorship as the solution to this because they simply don’t have enough time to regulate the opinions they publicly post or don’t have enough resources at hand to verify every piece of information that comes their way. While this may seem like arrogance, there is some amount of practicality to this. However, we’ve already seen how censorship without being 100% sure of every single facet of the truth can do more harm than good. It's not all bad however, as we’ve seen various myths and false claims debunked due to watchdog agencies and authorities such as OurNews and Fact Check.org. When it comes to the Indian domain, it's mostly independent organisations that regulate these things and we’ve seen this happening in the recent Zomato delivery assault case where lots of independent small scale pages helped voice both sides of the story leading up to the final verdict by judiciary bodies.
So how do we combat the democratic conversion of the truth into an oligarchy? The solution to this entire situation is rather institutional than theoretical, as far as recent events go. Collaborating multiple sources before taking a stand does seem to help quite a lot, and keeping yourself in check by self accountability methods does seem to go a long way. Understanding not only the importance of social media tools while taking a public stand but also the possibility of agencies leaning a particular side is also vital. In conclusion, the objective truth might not be at the threat of becoming an oligarchy… provided that we don’t go accepting every new isolated bit of information as the truth itself, that is.