. . .
But gradually, over the past decade, we seem to have become desensitised to lying.
We’ve started to lose hold of the truth as the guardrail for democratic debate, in part because untruth can be spread so effectively, in part because this wave of disinformation is breaking when the media is weakened and its fourth estate role is under pressure, and in part because some politicians have deliberately abandoned truth as the framework for political debate because it suits them to weaponise lies.
Since the election some Liberals have openly defended the death tax claim on the basis that even though they knew it was not Labor policy, some people in Labor had at some time in the past had thoughts about it. By that logic the political landscape could get very crowded with claims that someone had at some time or other considered.
The death tax lie may not have been particularly influential in the Australian campaign, it certainly was not the only example of false and misleading advertising, and by international standards it’s pretty small beer. But we know where this story goes, and it’s to a place that is dangerous for democracy.
Last year the Guardian was among the publications to break the Cambridge Analytica scandal, revealing that more than 50 million people had their Facebook data harvested and shared, without their knowledge, by a conservative polling company, Cambridge Analytica. It used the data to target users with false, divisive messages to attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum and the US presidential election.
When he was asked about this operating model during a sting operation by Channel 4, the then chief executive of Cambridge Analytica said: “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they’re believed.”