A power of being online
Much of the discussion surrounding the U.S. election has taken place on social media: memes of Donald Trump’s latest outrageous statements, extremist groups pledging allegiance to candidates on Twitter, fact-checkers verifying a candidate’s claims in real-time, and heated exchanges in the comment boxes of every major news outlet.
It’s clear that online forums for discussion have created a brand new environment for people to comment on matters of public concern. No matter your background, your education, or your point-of-view, online forums give everyday citizens a place to comment on the most important issues of the day.
Claims to truth
While some have argued that the sheer abundance of speakers and discussion that occurs online results in an increase in the democratization of knowledge, the authors of Speaking Power to Truth: Digital Discourse and the Public Intellectual (AU Press, 2016) argue that such commentary often blurs the line between opinion and knowledge, and evidence and hearsay.
They also argue that the role of the public intellectual—an external, independent, person who possesses knowledge, insight, and expertise—is now, more than ever, essential to verify the enormous number of claims made in a technologically mediated public sphere. But where do we find these trustworthy speakers and how can we guarantee that they are speaking the truth?
In a recent interview with Richard Hawkins and Michael Keren, the editors of the book, they pointed out that “the unopposed rise of American fascism that we are witnessing is proof that the old media has abdicated any relationship it might ever have had with the truth, and that the new media never had it in the first place.”
“American public intellectuals who stood by speechless in 2016, when a presidential election campaign largely turned into a digital shaming crusade, may in the future be summoned to the Court of History for crimes against democracy,” warns Keren. Where do we find these trustworthy speakers and how can we guarantee that they are speaking the truth?
It is unknown what the end result of a digital public sphere will be. But the U.S. election has shown that finding someone who speaks the unbiased truth in an online, unmediated environment is increasingly difficult. The editors of Speaking Power to Truth argue that because of the clutter that characterizes the digital age it is even more important to showcase, where possible, credible and trusted public intellectuals as potential sources of substantiated truth.
As to the U.S. election and the state of discourse about it online, Keren and Hawkins say, “We rest our case.”