A recent survey found that the majority of people globally believe their society is broken and their economy is rigged. Both the left and the right feel misrepresented and misunderstood by political institutions and the media, but the anger is shared by many in the liberal center, who believe that populists have gamed the system to harvest more attention than they deserve. Outrage with “mainstream” institutions has become a mass sentiment. . . .But, says Davies, this is wrong. Very few people are actually insulated from mainstream news, or dependent entirely on extreme voices. Many Trump voters and Brexiteers are quite well informed on what the mainstream media say, they just refuse to believe it.
The appearance of digital platforms, smartphones and the ubiquitous surveillance they enable has ushered in a new public mood that is instinctively suspicious of anyone claiming to describe reality in a fair and objective fashion. It is a mindset that begins with legitimate curiosity about what motivates a given media story, but which ends in a Trumpian refusal to accept any mainstream or official account of the world. . . .
The current threat to democracy is often seen to emanate from new forms of propaganda, with the implication that lies are being deliberately fed to a naive and over-emotional public. The simultaneous rise of populist parties and digital platforms has triggered well-known anxieties regarding the fate of truth in democratic societies. Fake news and internet echo chambers are believed to manipulate and ghettoise certain communities, for shadowy ends. Key groups – millennials or the white working-class, say – are accused of being easily persuadable, thanks to their excessive sentimentality.
This diagnosis exaggerates old-fashioned threats while overlooking new phenomena. Over-reliant on analogies to 20th century totalitarianism, it paints the present moment as a moral conflict between truth and lies, with an unthinking public passively consuming the results. But our relationship to information and news is now entirely different: it has become an active and critical one, that is deeply suspicious of the official line. Nowadays, everyone is engaged in spotting and rebutting propaganda of one kind or another, curating our news feeds, attacking the framing of the other side and consciously resisting manipulation. In some ways, we have become too concerned with truth, to the point where we can no longer agree on it. The very institutions that might once have brought controversies to an end are under constant fire for their compromises and biases.Where this ends up, I have no clue. But I think a complete disappearance of any shared account of the world is quite possible, especially as digital fakery gets better and better.