Our 2016 Word of the Year Was "Post-Truth"

There’s no denying that this past year was one of conflict, confusion, and… apparently, post-truth?

Okay, a little bit of backstory might be helpful here. Every year, the Oxford English Dictionary adds a new word that seems to encapsulate the past year. A couple weeks ago, the word “post-truth” was added, and named the “word of the year.” This word is officially defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” An influx of the use of this adjective, especially around the subjects of Brexit earlier this year, as well as November’s presidential election, lead to its nomination into the prestigious dictionary.

In sharp contrast, the essence of 2015 was, according to the Oxford Dictionary, not actually a word, but the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji.           

It’s almost hard to imagine that we are living in a post-truth society. I feel that whenever I log onto Facebook or turn on the news, I’m bombarded with an overwhelming amount of statistics and facts. How can in be possible, then, that we are constantly being updated with new information and facts, and yet those are less influential for the public than general gut feelings?

But, maybe facts have become less important because everything is new news, and always in a state of constant change? If the reported “truth” is so often changing, and facts from a year ago or even a day ago are often irrelevant, it’s not unreasonable to feel like they may not be real truths.

This past presidential election is a prime example of what some may call the rise of post-truth politics. Supporters of both Clinton and Trump have had opposing points of view on just about every topic debatable; military spending and action, health care, the response to climate change, jobs, taxes, equality, etc. However, having differing views, and even arguing over them, can often be helpful in order to find solutions that work for all kinds of people. The part that’s post-truth, however, and that part that’s perhaps a little bit dangerous, is not that a hypothetical Trump supporter wants to see Obamacare repealed. It’s that this Trump supporter wants to see it repealed, not because of the actual bill itself, but because they heard an outrageous lie about President Obama being a founder of ISIS, and act based on a feeling or anxiety related to that. That is, a voting American came to his conclusion on who to support based not on what a candidate’s platform really is, but more on their personal feelings towards a candidate.

And truly, both sides are at fault for this. I, myself, was furious when I heard about Trump’s potentially illegal tax evasions—but was quick to turn a blind eye to Clinton’s email scandal. I was picking and choosing which facts I found most important, and choosing to ignore others in place of my own personal feelings. It’s easy to feel righteous, or even informed about something, but not have an accurate view of the full picture.

Of course, post-truth isn’t just applicable to politics. This kind of mentality stains all aspects of our lives. It’s almost impossible to stay partial when it comes down to conflicts between family or friends, and it’d be unreasonable to make all decisions based on a factual pros and cons list. However, one thing we all could work on, at least as citizens, is not taking all things read on the Internet to heart. Also, finding reputable, unbiased news sources is invaluable. It’s easy to pick and choose what information to believe when it’s just thrown at us from Facebook and Twitter and general hearsay, but it’s wholly something else to go out on your own and look for “the truth” yourself. I don't think that we are really heading into a post-truth age and that the "truth" will become meaningless or anything quite so dramatic anytime soon. However, I do think that not relying on every day "post-truth", and really working on knowing the full picture of any situation, is an important resolution for all of us to try out in 2016. And hopefully, with that in mind, our “word of the year” for 2017 will be something a lot more along the lines of “Face with Tears of Joy!”