I wonder how many in the uniformed fraternity have really come to grips with living in the Post Truth Era! It may surprise many to know that the words or the phrase, was the Oxford dictionaries word of the year in 2016. Without going into its literal meaning, ‘it implies that objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotions and personal beliefs’. We are living in a phase of fake news and fictional elusive facts. Such euphemism as ‘being economical with the truth’ and ‘sweetening the story’ abide. My concern is, that in the Army, we put a high premium on truth, accuracy and credibility. In fact, these qualities are among the most cherished in a true leader.
The bigger concern for all of us should be that this grey area of halftruths, innuendo and even outright lies dressed up as information/facts are permeating the porous borders of the social media. We now have the disconcerting and challenging dilemma of all ranks at the risk of being influenced, swayed and their thinking distorted by falsehoods and mala fide spin.
Leadership therefore in the Post Truth social media prevalent order becomes doubly challenging than even before. The second tragedy of this phenomenon is that sensational lies and hoax/ fake stories have a much greater chance of going viral than the more benign yet factual positive stories. A research among groups of WhatsApp users revealed that out of a symbolic 100 people in a group, about 30 percent are the most frequent and prolific users. The next 20 percent use it occasionally and balance remain quiet or rarely come up. However it is the first 30 percent who are the angry lot and vent their ire at all perceived injustices across all spectrums from national to routine issues. They are also the ones who forward unverified negative messages with a routine disclaimer “forwarded as received”. No attempt even feeble is made to verify the basic authenticity of the often malicious and post truth report. Thus approximately 30 percent of the more cynical and negative minded of a normal group dominate the discourse and often hijack a social group thought process by their sheer persistence. Our soldiers and ex-servicemen who are but human, get deeply influenced and often get carried away by this appeal to their emotions and prejudices by reinforcing some latent doubts or beliefs.
It has therefore become more important for leaders of today to understand the pervasive power of the social media and by example, persuasion and proof expose untruths and the falsehood vitiating the minds and thinking of our gallant men. It is also quite certain that forces inimical to our national interest both within and outside would and are using the easy reach and accessibility of the social media platform to spread disaffection and falsehood. The solution however does not lie in censorship and/or banning the dragon but in taming it and controlling/limiting its detrimental effect. The only answer lies in an increased level of alertness and sharing of more and more verifiable truthful information and sharing with troops and colleagues the pitfalls of the Post Truth Era. Leadership in the Army, thankfully, has always been dynamic, responsive and committed. Once again the same resolve needs to be adopted as we navigate the difficult currents of the digital world! One thing though remains constant;our leadership must as always rise to this challenge and handle this adroitly in the interest of our Armed Forces and the nation.