Search for Truth in Truthy-ness

Truth (1896). Olin Warner

Increasingly, trending topics influence the everyday discourse. With the side flick of our consciousness, we become aware of news bytes, cultural events, products, political movements and superfoods as part of the daily information streams. But how do we navigate the rapids without enough proverbial paddles? What happens when we are collectively swayed by semi-truths without full awareness of their sources? Some originators of extreme tweet activity prove to be info-bots fed by singleton owners of multiple accounts creating democractic illusions.

As witnessed by the viral tsunami of this spring’s #Kony2012 campaign, passing on videos or links can have extreme collective and individual consequences, as they simultaneously initiate dialogue and shine spotlights on issues previously held in shadow. How do we hold back as changemakers and media collaborators when witnessing a trending topic or viral tidal wave, especially when our mirror neurons twitch to participate? We are part of a human experiment in interconnection that sometimes results in the most ridiculous, insignificant or simply untrue media messages entering the streams and pulling in massive energetic attention, alongside those which prove to be rapid social change pivot points of awareness. How can we distinguish between the important messages and the contagious flukes?

The University of Indiana has developed a site, Truthy, for tracking memes, as well as exposing “astroturf” political sites which manufacture messages designed to skew trends in social media streams by creating illusions of popular support for a group, concept, idea or individual. How do we discern the difference between “truth” and “truthiness” online, especially as we head into a 2012 election season destined to be a playing field for persuasion dominance of the information ecosystem? Are there enough checks and balances built into the global brain to self-correct information that pollutes the share-stream with untruths, misinformation or destructive propaganda? Or do we need to up the ante on awareness of messages through online media literacy reminders to check the source, and hold our button-press response mechanisms in check before we pass-it-on?

Here is Stephen Colbert’s hilarious take from 2005 on “truthiness”:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Truthiness
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Bush-era comedy aside, head/heart dichotomy still has resonance. Each week we peruse more social media messages through increasing platforms and devices, often non-think clicking and sharing based on amygdala-driven emotional responses. Can we train ourselves to think before we share, or is viral pass-it-on contagion inevitable and necessary?

Clearly, certain well-established website click-throughs provide confidence based on readership and reputation as truth purveyors, yet others purchase Google search priority to influence truth or manufacture truthiness. Though The New York Times, Guardian UK, Forbes, The Atlantic and other print-originating media sources still often hold sway with share buttons as reliable sources, curators like Brainpicker, Flavorpill, Mashable and upstart tastemakers featured on Flipboard and other mobile news services are building their own cultural and news followings.

We all have our favorite sources of truth, yet sometimes a rogue message makes the rounds of influence, inspiring our belief in the exclamation points. Share-button participation in the extended lifespan of memes continues to provide rich material for sleuthing out the whys of human inspiration and imitation in the search of Truth.

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy (1737) Francois Lemoyne

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  1. Melissa C

    A very funny video, indeed.  This post reminds
    me of an event that Deanna Zandt reflected upon in her book, “Share
    This”.  Zandt describes a protest that took place on the streets of
    Iran following the 2009 presidential election. 
    According to Zandt, American news reporters with limited access to Iran
    reported false information they gathered from social media posts that had
    allegedly been written by Iranian citizens.  Although the Iranian
    government had shut down various networks following the aftermath of the
    election, news travelled quickly and, much like a whisper, became overly


    Zandt urges news reporters to slow down and to
    take the time to make sense of information before delivering it to the general
    public.  It is up to these high-profile individuals to filter their news
    before broadcasting it, but how should they determine when to deliver this
    information?  Who dictates what the “truth” is in this case?
     I am still agitated by the 2011 “new zodiac sign” hoax!
     One astronomer reported that a new constellation existed, and then all of
    a sudden broadcasters had decided that new zodiac sign also existed and encouraged
    us to disregard our previous signs. 
    Remember this?


    #truthiness #socialmedia
    #deannazandt #Opiuchus #vmlab 


    Zandt, Deanna. “When Twittering
    Goes Awry.” Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social
    Networking. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010. 105-07. Print.

  2. Josh B

    The concept of viral media as a marketing tool has turned into a cottage industry filled with a lot of bad operators. This site is fantastic in terms of the information it provides. Its a little confusing to navigate. The kind of bad tactics that go into swaying consumers into various products as well as getting people to follow a particular group or trend (commercial or not) could use some more exposure, hopefully with projects like this they will. I know that the music and art world could really use a Truthy. The resulting work of SEO providers and other viral marketing agencies is causing a bit of a tide in the music world, which I personally feel has a larger effect in that it is providing a larger megaphone for artists that have the money to buy better viral campaigns instead of creating content that truly reaches people and promotes something positive. 

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