Fake news and the post truth world

Last modified on 28/06/2017

I read this week that ‘post truth’ has just been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Timely as I was about to blog about fake news and the recent Food and Health APPG in Westminster was about the wide range of poor advice on social media. I must admit it is only recently that I have looked up the real meanings of these terms, despite hearing them repeatedly in recent times.

The relevance to us is that we are inundated with fake news about diet and nutrition, with spurious health claims and everyone being an ‘expert’. With a 24 hour environment where anybody and everybody can say what they want it is no wonder that the weird, wonderful and the dangerous can be so attractive to someone, somewhere. The real skill to being an ‘expert’ is apparently a) claiming that everyone is wrong, b) stating the evidence is flawed and c) speaking with authority. None of these abilities require skill, qualifications or indeed common sense, however.

So, why has this evolved and why does all this fake news fit within a ‘post truth’ world? Post truth generally means an attraction to emotional connection rather than (in our case) an evidence based or factual connection. It also requires repeated denial of facts or details, largely because they do not connect with an emotional desire or don’t fit in with the argument being made. Post truth strategies are entirely emotional and may well be in response to what we generally see as a dissatisfaction in society with the ‘norm’ or what has generally been seen before. It is argued that the evidence for this recently has been the decision to leave the EU, the rise of Donald Trump, the inability of polls to determine what people really think and a rise in views which are clearly not traditional. Does this make them wrong? No, they are just different, but can be dangerous – especially in the case of health issues.

When many people seem to want ‘alternative’ solutions to health and nutrition issues, where does this leave the dietitian? I would argue in a better place than all the experts who claim to have ‘post truth’ solutions. My view is dietitians have the ability to claim the high ground, use science to position themselves publicly and on social media and not be afraid of being vocal. This is not about arguing or disagreeing with views that don’t agree with science. In fact I would suggest the best way to tackle so called ‘experts’ is to ignore them and simply keep on doing what you do. In the past few weeks we have seen front page news, from the BDA and our spokespeople, setting the record straight on a number of issues. We can be found on the front page of the BBC website and on the morning sofas on the main TV channels. Use your voice and be proud, don’t be afraid to use your authority and remember that with so many ‘truths’ out there, common sense will prevail.

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