Facts, lies and the ballot box

Facts, lies and the ballot box

It is unfair to pin the whole blame on Donald Trump and his election win in the United States on the new political concept of “post-truth.” 

Wikipedia gives the flowing definition for the concept: “Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.”

The Oxford dictionary chose “post-truth” as the word of 2016.

This is something much more than the classical line which goes “perceptions matter more than realities in politics.” It is rather close to the Turkish proverb which goes “if you say the same thing 40 times it becomes real.” In the post-truth, post-fact world, what you say 40 times need not be the truth as well.

For example, in an IPSOS-Mori study cited by a Munich Security Conference 2017 report, this question was asked to citizens in different countries: “Out of every 100 people in your country, about how many are Muslims?”

The answers showed remarkable difference between the facts and the perceptions.

In France for example, where the Muslim population is about 7.5 percent, the respondents believed that there were 31 percent – something that explains the Islamophobic tendencies in politics. So in France, if a politician comes up and says that France has been overwhelmed by Muslims who are taking jobs from the hands of good Christian French men and women, there is a chance that it could work.

In Germany the actual percentage is 5 percent but the perception is 21 percent. In the U.S., just 1 percent of the population is Muslim, but the majority believes it is 17 percent. In Poland where Islamophobia and actually all forms of xenophobia is on the ascent, the Muslim population is less than 0.001 percent, but the perception is 7 percent.

And here is the surprise: In Turkey, the Muslim population according to official records is 98 percent, but the majority of people believe that it is only 81 percent. With such data in hand, any Turkish politician could play the xenophobic card about the behind-the-scenes power of non-Muslims and find support.

This is still within the realm of distorted truth and replacing reality with perception. But there was a striking example of fake news given by Gen. Petr Pavel, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, during the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 18. He said news about German soldiers raping a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl near their army barracks was totally fake; it was spread through social media right after NATO’s decision to send more troops, mostly Germans, in support of Baltic states.

The “post-truth” concept has been around for some years already, but Trump’s fierce struggle with the Democrats allowed many across the globe to perceive it better. Political commentators have identified post-truth politics as being on the ascendancy in Russian, Chinese, American, Australian, British, Indian, Japanese and Turkish politics for many years.

In Turkey another ballot box will be put before 55 million plus voters on April 16 for a referendum to approve a constitutional change for a shift to an executive presidential system. The opposition arguments that it will lead to the one-man-rule of President Tayyip Erdoğan cannot find much place in the media. Erdoğan says concentrating the will of the people in one hand and ensuring it is not chained by any other power, be it parliament or the courts, will be a more democratic and quicker way of serving the people.

Such a politically polarized atmosphere is extremely susceptible to manipulations including fake news, especially through social media. 

Social media has been a mess for many years and is full of trolls either supported by the government, opposition groups or interest groups. There have been restrictions erected against the mainstream media by the state of emergency imposed after the foiled military coup of July 15, 2016. More than 120 journalists, writers and publishers are under arrest on accusations of being linked to the coup attempt or different terrorist organizations. 

In short, there is a global tendency of “post-truth” politics and the state of emergency conditions together ahead of the Turkish referendum and the shower of fake news, especially on social media. 

Turkish voter will do their best to make the best possible decision anyway. But we’ll continue to tiptoe amid this delicate relation between fake news in this post-truth world and one of the main pillars of a pluralist democracy, the ballot box.