What constitutes a lie in the age of opinions and how do we argue with trolls?

The funny thing about interpreting the truth is that the test to establish whether something is a lie or not is to examine the meaning a reasonable person would obtain from the use of those words. If all the words of a sentence are true but the person knowingly omits part of the context so that it can be interpreted in a way which supports his or her political agenda, in my view, it would be a lie.

However, we appear to be in the age of opinions over facts, where everyone can spin their side of the truth to fit the message they wish to convey, and a question still remains:

Do we still associate words and facts with “the truth”?

Over a year ago, Bill O’Reilly, political commentator for the Fox News’ program The O’Reilly Factor became entangled in a mix up of words when an article on the magazine The Mother Jones by David Corn and Daniel Schulman defied O’Reilly’s involvement in the 1982 Falklands Islands War when he was as a news correspondent for CBS.

O’Reilly had repeatedly used his experience as a “war correspondent” to legitimise his understanding of war in numerous occasions, and the Falklands War tales were especially noteworthy because he went as far as going into detail about heroic circumstances he underwent in the face of what he perceived as great dangers.

The article on the Mother Jones included several instances where O’Reilly talked or wrote about his experiences in the Falklands, citing a line from his book The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America, that said, “I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.”

It substantially questioned remarks from the Fox presenter about being involved in “war zones” in Falklands and in El Salvador, during the country’s 1981 civil war, and going as far as disputing whether he had ever been assigned to a combat zone as a war correspondent, at least to the extent he was claiming.

Back then, O’Reilly used his own mass media platform to adamantly defend himself from the accusations, claiming that he had never said he was on the Falkland Islands, and going back to everything he said or wrote it is difficult to establish whether he was telling a lie, as it would look that it looked more as if he had appeared to have left words out and potentially created what some would assume was a misrepresentation of the truth.

Photo by: Joanna Kosinska

Facts will always remain important because having knowledge about a subject will always open up gates to acquiring more knowledge, and other parts of the human mind as analytical skills or imagination are never detached from knowledge of the reality that surrounds us.

I would add that opinions and ideas are the machines who have shaped the world into what it is today, and that wouldn’t have been possible if there weren’t people who were willing to challenge society as it was. However, these draw from understanding the reality surrounding that society first in order to question the status quo.

Now, let’s put this in the context of the trolls.

I tend to find that people draw away from facts during an argument when these do not support their views. But when statistics and surveys can be used to prove pretty much anything we want to, as long as we use data in a way which shifts those results in the direction we want, things start to get complicated.

Mark Twain used to say that there were three types of lies: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This couldn’t be truer.

Of course, all of us have gone down the road of arguing with a troll with what we believe are facts and what to us appear to be reasonable opinions. However, opinions unsupported by reality (and not a mere perception of reality but one based on facts) will not take us far, especially when arguing with trolls.

Then, again, some argue that nothing will take you far when arguing with a troll because when two individuals discuss opinions, and these are based in their perception of the world, there is no real appearance of truth to the person conveying the opinions.

So, when arguing with a troll the best way would be to get facts across, so their opinions do not remain unchallenged. Mainly to avoid for other people to read this and take it at face value. Once you have done that, run away, as fast as you can, because when trolls get frustrated they will start aiming for personal attacks and it is easy to get caught in meaningless discussions and let’s face it, there aren’t many responses to someone calling you fat or ugly, and it doesn’t matter whether that’s a fact or an opinion.


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