What Happened to Truth Telling?

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

I remember the time when people of great influence took pains in choosing their words in front of cameras. There was an effort to stay close to the truth for fear of being accused of a liar. In today’s information age, when various mass media platforms have proliferated, and information travels fast and is readily accessible on mobile devices, people have become careless and reckless about the veracity of the information they promote and share. Some politicians, government service individuals, and social media influencers don’t seem to think twice about promoting half-truths or complete lies to serve their agenda.

Conspiracy theories have been around since man learned to gossip. However, today, they have become a handy tool to attract attention, monetize lies, buttress a false narrative, or simply take down a perceived opponent. The most sinister is propaganda used by foreign powers to influence the course of a country’s politics, sow public doubt about governments, or create division among people. Equally pernicious are homegrown propaganda and vitriolic speeches masquerading as patriotic calls to arms. Now, more than ever, people must be vigilant and use critical thinking to sort and digest all kinds of information promoted in mass media or social media platforms.

I’m surprised to discover the number of people I know who fall for conspiracy theories and misinformation about U.S. politics, Covid-19 and the vaccines, and a host of other societal issues ranging from race, politics, religion, medicine to the economy. These are intelligent and good people. Why did they buy into what clearly appear to be irrational ideas?

“Sources of information, such as social media platforms or TV commercials, employ techniques that impact the targeted audience or consumers. Persons receiving the information have cognitive make-up that can be manipulated and may be susceptible to influences based on personal history and preferences.”

I have been exposed to similar materials on TV, social media, or people I interact with, and I started to try to figure out how people are impacted by information. There are two important elements to consider: the source of information and the person receiving the information. Sources of information, such as social media platforms or TV commercials, employ techniques that impact the targeted audience or consumers. Persons receiving the information have cognitive make-up that can be manipulated and may be susceptible to influences based on personal history and preferences. The most common strategy that often works on people is appealing to the basic human emotion of fear.

We have been familiar with the use of subliminal programming in TV commercials for quite some time now. With the advent of the Internet and the applications of research algorithms and artificial intelligence, these additional tools provide purveyors of information with powerful means of manipulating and influencing a targeted audience. Take Google, Facebook, and other platforms, for example. When you search or happen to look at a product on Amazon or Google, it won’t take long before you are bombarded with all sorts of ads of similar products or items you were checking.

The same with reading an article or watching a video on Facebook or YouTube, which gathers and collates information and tailors its next presentations in your Facebook page or YouTube recommended list. For example, when looking at a video presentation on the Covid-19 vaccine by an expert-looking, articulate person in a white hospital gown armed with impressive colorful charts to support an argument, I’m mesmerized, and I begin to pay attention. It does not matter that the person is arguing against vaccination; I’m captivated by the presentation. It is a well-rehearsed audio-visual presentation designed to influence my mind without my full awareness.

They got me by influencing my preferences, and now my brain is primed to receive a similar set of information. Unbeknownst to me, a machine tracks me and sorts out what got my attention. Lo and behold, the next time I go back to the Internet, I’m presented with a slew of materials on a similar subject.

“The implications of unbridled lies and misinformation taking roots in the minds of many are disturbing because they can mobilize a mob to act out a contrived grievance or a manufactured injustice like what happened on January 6th.”

In open or democratic societies, there are means to get your hands on information that may not be readily available about government policies, individual public records, business or corporate records, etc. Unlike in totalitarian societies, records of public officials are more accessible in democracies. With some efforts, we can fact-check what we see and hear on the air, in news outlets, or online, especially those that use sophisticated subliminal programming techniques. These strategies used to be mainly confined to TV or radio commercials. Now it has been perfected and aided by artificial intelligence technology, such as algorithmic programming.

Next time you see or hear a subject that interests you in the air or the Internet, which has aroused your curiosity or cast doubt on a commonly held belief or question an established fact, do due diligence to research facts. It does not take much to do this nowadays.

While misinformation and propaganda abound on the Internet or mass media, employ the same tools to get to the facts. The implications of unbridled lies and misinformation taking roots in the minds of many are disturbing because they can mobilize a mob to act out a contrived grievance or a manufactured injustice like what happened on January 6th.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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