Word of the Year from URL to IRL?

In an attempt at redeeming itself after declaring an EMOJI (no, not the word ‘emoji’, but an actual pictograph) as the “Word” of the Year for 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) crowned ‘post-truth’ as the characterising term for whatever 2016 actually was. Now that we’re a quarter of the way into 2017, let’s pause to actually think about what has happened.

Post-truth: adj. Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief

Remember the time Kate McKinnon did her best impression of Hillary Clinton and sang Hallelujah as a tribute to Leonard Cohen on Saturday Night Live? That episode aired just days after Donald Trump won the presidential elections. It was a sketch purely based on appealing to the emotions of the liberal America that lost its faith in all things good, conveniently ignoring that almost exactly a year prior Donald Trump himself was on SNL parodying Drake’s Hotline Bling moves. It’s this idea that ‘truth’ doesn’t matter in the face of mass public appeal.

When I was in Elementary school in the late 90s, when the Internet was still sort of a ‘new’ thing, and we’d have these “online safety” lessons. “Don’t take candy from a stranger” suddenly became “don’t believe what people say on the internet”. Today, when the President’s Executive Orders roll out as unexpectedly and instantly as his 3AM tweets, how do we define the parameters of legitimate information?

The very act of claiming post-truth as the Word of 2016 signals a shift in the way we see our world affairs. Yes, to an extent we have always lived in a cloud of mistrust. Most of us have always been sceptical of advertising, of things we read on social media, of the government. But what’s happening today is more than mistrust – it’s the complete topsy-turvy undermining of ‘fact’ in our day-to-day lives. It’s not a question anymore of being lied to. No, what’s at stake now is the degradation of the belief that despite our scepticism, some sort of ‘truth’ may still exist.

Even our online experience of life is so divided because our social media platforms allow us to surround ourselves with ‘yes-men’. My friends on Facebook, just like my friends in my offline life, are likely to be people whose views I generally agree with. Expectedly, my Facebook newsfeed would reflect my own views. To me, Trump’s election was a surprise. But to someone who is a Trump supporter, whose friends and family members are all Trump supporters, perhaps nothing about the election process was surprising. Yes, online we coexist, but only in the sense that everyone regardless of nationality, religion, cultural background, has a profile and a ‘space’ – so long as they have access to the internet. But is this really, coexistence?

Perhaps the silver lining here is that all we have now is our own truth, which is a pretty powerful sentiment if you think about it. But as Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility – and so, if post-truth is that which appeals to our personal beliefs, then it’s high time we crucially examine what those beliefs are and where they have come from. Only then can we learn how to respect differing views while still staying true to ourselves. Let’s make our word for 2017 a great one, yeah?

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