At a more recent seminar organised by UCL [1] with title Thinkspace: truth, post-truth and culture, the lead- commentator, J. Melvin, introduced an issue raised by rather many before him, that of the post-modernism and its sometimes extremely relativist relation to truth and knowledge, this time, by referring to L. Kolakowski's worry about future, if any, for the truth.

That is, for several decades postmodernism has been bringing into the academic theory and aesthetics, but now, as it seems in a timely fashion, also into our reality, the very question of its objective existence and that of our ability to share common understanding of it. Of course, many theories even before phenomenology or modern psychology of priming of our perception and knowledge have already pointed-out to the, now widely accepted, inevitability of a certain degree of the personalised nature of our knowledge.

However, when internet news media personalise your news page according to your reading habit and location, the effect of “personal” truth and knowledge is even more enforced, and we reduce or even loose ability to have commonly shared news information, and hence, a possibility to have a shared understanding of everyday events, or even, a shared culture. Of course, the multiplication of media channels from just a few three decades ago to hundreds nowadays, fragments, contextualise and relativise what used to be a common culture and knowledge even more.

Hence, the responsibility or the blame for such fragmentation of “truth” and its relativisation is not just on the side of less (or not at all) regulated social media, but probably in branding and audience market segmentation pursued by a mixture of the so called “free”, commercially driven, and other main-stream media too.

Info- and cyber terrorism

However, the history has been rapidly writing itself: just shortly before the campaign blackout ahead of the 2nd round of the recent French presidential elections, content of the leaked dump of the bulk of Macron's campaign team's emails, allegedly containing added and mixed-in some fake compromising documents, was widely distributed on social media, aiming at interfering with the electoral decisions. On one hand, in retrospect, their publication on internet did not seem to have had the intended effect and a N.Y. Times commentator praised French media [2] for not giving-in to a temptation, so often shared by the commercial media, to publicise their sensationalist content. However, those interested could still access the sites containing the documents and further distribute links via internet and social media [3] - hence, the sovereign state democratic election was left rather vulnerable to the effects of the social media and internet.

And, in addition to the cyber-content “info-terrorism” such as uncontrollable, large scale release of fake news discussed above, the more traditional cyber terrorism of unprecedented scale unravelled just few days later, Friday,12th May, reinforcing the calls for the already budget over-stretched sovereign states to protect at least the integrity and fabric of the contemporary cyber-markets that became so important for the functioning of the modern economy and, even more importantly, that of the public, e-government internet based services and the health and lives of the affected patients.

In the cyber space it is more difficult to find the true source of the menace than in normal crime, not unlike when if a missile was launched from an under-water submarine of unknown origin. It is therefore not surprising that we still do not know, at this stage (and may never know), if the bitcoin ransom payments made are going just into pockets of nerdish cyber hackers as is widely assumed (possibly as a convenient, the least public-alarming option, though, still encouraging even more sophisticated cyber-attacks), or into, inadvertently, aiding international terrorists and their even more audacious, murderous attacks,...or a donation for a political party or a charity. That is, the direct beneficiary may not actually be the perpetrator...but the most likely unintended, indirect beneficiary may be the IT suppliers (and their shareholders) providing replacements for most of the old (e.g. UK NHS) computers currently unsuitable for running the later versions of, that virus protected, software.

In any case, one could have asked if their sovereign states are doing enough or failing in their capacity and, though costly, responsibility to maintain security of their public information systems midst their rising complexity and dependency, and to protect their public institutions (see “Why Nations Fail...” ). But, as a visitor to the seminar on post-truth pointed out in passing, the “things are moving very fast...faster than we can think”....and we may not be able to control them any more...

Continues on the 7th of August.

Read also the Part One

[1] Thinkspace: truth, post-truth and culture
[2] David Leonhardt: A French Lesson for the American Media, NYT, 9 May 2017
[3] Blogs trending