Why Facts Don’t Matter in the 2016 Presidential Election

Between the hours of 3 AM and 5 AM Friday morning, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump went on a tweetstorm in which he was, you know, just saying that Hillary Clinton helped former Miss Universe (and a target of Trump’s misogyny) Alicia Machado become a US citizen “so she could use her in the debate.”

Is that true? Like, almost certainly not—but in this election season, truth and facts hardly seem to matter. Trump’s attacks on Machado are just the latest data point in an election cycle that has seen wild speculation, rampant exaggeration, and outright lies become accepted as fact by huge swaths of the electorate on both sides of the aisle.

If we’re living in a post-factual era, how did we get here? Vincent F. Hendricks set up the Center for Information and Bubble Studies at the University of Copenhagen to study how individual and media behavior online has created a reality where virality, social spread, and repetition is all that’s required for people to believe something is true.

While “facts” haven’t gone totally by the wayside, the way we cherry pick facts to make alternate realities has created a political system (and a culture) where we can’t have rational arguments because we can’t even agree on a baseline of truth.

Radio Motherboard spoke to Hendricks about this week’s debate and about his new book, Infostorms, which explores how our likes, upvotes, retweets, coupled with social media algorithms and brash politicians with a disregard for the truth are redefining rational society.