I wish to propose that 2022 be declared Kenya’s year of the post-truth reality. My thesis is very simple. That during the year, the country went through experiences that aptly describe the post-truth reality.
It is thus only fair that we make the declaration so we can find better ways of dealing with the menace, fast and furious. I will make a few observations, but first let me give a context.
In the morning hours of Friday 29th December, in a WhatsApp page, a journalist colleague of mine posted a video of a crusade hosted in Nakuru by the leader of the Ministry of Repentance and Holiness Prophet Dr David Owuor.
The page is strictly for journalists so, once in a while, aside from the normal life’s banter, we use it to peer review.
The video was dubbed ‘Menengai 5: Watch Prophet Dr Owuor Cure Boy of HIV/Aids in Nakuru’ and upon clicking it read ‘Confirmed: Prophet Dr Owuor cures boy of HIV/Aids at Menengai 5.’
It had a thumbnail composed of a photo of the learned man of God and a signification of a HIV/Aids test kit. I reflected a bit, then posed: “Where in the video/article is the cure journalistically demonstrated or proven?”
My assumption was that, even if the boy had been cured, I would have expected a journalist telling such a story to go beyond the boundaries of the rally, to prove the cure. I didn’t see that in the story (nay, video). It is then that I got very interesting responses. At least two stand out.
“We don’t do everything journalistically. We are in business. When we post shouting headlines, don’t question.”
Then another. “Your view is misplaced. We are not in competition with mainstream media. We have our own space, and we have our own style. In this case, (for) the particular story we have a target audience; the Owuor followers and the skeptics like you.”
I felt defeated, breathed hard and signed out lazily. “I hear you. We live in an era where facts matter no more; the post-truth era and it’s a sad reality. As sad as the loss of the three icons: (Vivienne) Westwood, (Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka) Pele, and (Catherine) Kasavuli.”
Just like the fake news concept, post-truth was popularised in 2016 with the Oxford English Dictionary declaring it as the word of the year. While the former has come to be described as misinformation, disinformation and mal-information, the latter refers to a situation where emotional appeal and personal belief are much more important in shaping public opinion than objective facts.
Perhaps audiences in the country, and journalists too, are much more familiar with the former concept, thanks to the many discussions that mirrored it and the many fact checking projects that were executed prior to the last General Election.
I, however, feel that we are yet to interrogate the latter concept in details. Yet, just as in the WhatsApp discussion above, it manifested itself in many ways and still is.
One will remember how we had multiple platforms questioning peer reviewed objective facts shared on mainstream media and other expert platforms in the last General Election.
As is normal with the post-truth reality, it was easier for us to trust sources of information that pandered to our beliefs and we did everything to distort the credibility of any other source that went against what we believed in. That way we normalized acceptance of unverified information into our systems; what some analysts call bullshit.
I wish we had enough space here to elucidate to lengths the impact that platforms such as the Hustler Nation Intelligence Bureau (HNIB) and its “It is so declassified” slogan, the Azimio TV handle and many other ‘alter.native media sources’, as well as the hustler/dynasty dichotomy and the narrative it arose, had last year, to the post-truth reality.
Social media platforms, some being run by professional journalists, have accentuated this phenomenon. It’s an infodemic. In their disruptive innovations (as was proven in the WhatsApp discussion) they have come up with new ways of telling the story.
Muddy the waters
It’s encouraging yes, but unfortunately, instead of these new ways increasing the avenues of understanding the story, they are muddying the waters by killing the very tenets that make the story stand: objectivity.
Thus, what matters today in some instances, is the number of likes and clicks one gets from a social media post and the money they generate thereafter. Their style is clickbait.
They are social media influencers and they ‘push for content’ the best way they know how. Truth and verification have been kicked through the window since after all, gate keeping and peer review is “misplaced”.
It is because of this that I make my proposal. This will make us own the problem and find better ways of dealing with it. Unlike fake news though, fact checking and flagging titles and content as ‘fake’ is not enough to deal with the post-truth malady. We need a serious engagement on media literacy to weed out the post-truth ideology, and by the way, it’s very cancerous.