Making sense of facts – and alternative facts

New book offers an overarching system to make sense of post-truth phenomenon not only in politics but also in a range of areas

GN Bureau | September 24, 2021


#Politics   #information   #technology   #post-truth  


The Art of Conjuring Alternate Realities: How Information Warfare Shapes Your World
By Shivam Shankar Singh and Anand Venkatanarayanan
HarperCollins / 284 pages / Rs 599

Professor Noam Chomsky, linguist and public intellectual, has often spoken of ‘Orwell’s Problem’: the problem of explaining how people can know so little even when the evidence is before their very eyes. From Orwell’s time to ours, it’s a full circle. On one hand, there has been an explosive rise in news consumption, along with the growth of the new media. On the other hand, people seem to know less and less. Social media has complicated the problem. Paradoxically, it’s no longer about facts: people seem to believe in what they want to believe in, creating “alternative facts”.

After Trump and Brexit, there has been a surfeit of books in the West on the phenomenon of post-truth, but not many in India. ‘The Art of Conjuring Alternate Realities: How Information Warfare Shapes Your World’, by Shivam Shankar Singh and Anand Venkatanarayanan not only fills the gap, it has a more ambitious scope and a matching depth too.  

Singh, who had a stint in politics as a researcher with the BJP, is a data analyst, with a best-seller, ‘How to Win an Indian Election’ (2019) to his credit. This time, he has teamed up with Venkatanarayanan who is cyber security and privacy researcher. The team brings their varied experience to a vast range of issues beyond the manipulation of the voter’s mind by political parties – how cyber criminals, godmen, intelligence agencies and even nation-states indulge in creating alternative realities, all in their quest for power and influence.

For a conscientious citizen in the digital age, the first duty is to stick to truth, even if it has become extremely difficult to do so, given the tricks and tactics they employ, as illustrated in this book with detailed case studies. Yet, that citizen will find enough help to maintain sanity, question implanted narratives and strengthen democratic impulses.
 

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