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Truthiness is a term coined by Stephen Colbert on his Comedy Central parody fake news show, The Colbert Report. It refers to a quality that statements can have where they "seem true", or "should be true", or "would (give good story / support my agenda / impress people) if they were true"… without any actual worry over whether they would be judged to be "actually" true by skeptical and disinterested observers.
Stephen uses his gut rather than his head to determine the truthiness of a given statement, and so do others, whether they use the word truthiness (probably not) or otherwise.
Pundits and media reporting can in various places and circumstances serve to further truthiness, whether the work is crafted with an ulterior motive (e.g. to further bias as in propaganda) or operating in good faith. This can be furthered by the basic tendency of media to strive for emotional impact and appeal in order to sell stories, and the receptiveness of the general public to being influenced by that, in culture war, in matters of political and other controversies, and concerning individuals and scandals as in cases of "trial by media."
Independently of Colbert's neologism (and possibly predating it), programmers sometimes use "truthy" to refer to data that is somehow akin to a boolean "true" value.
However, there's also been discussion of Colbertian truthiness in relation to technology hype cycles, in which, repeatedly, truthy visions of new technologies and their dreamed-of capabilities flood the media and the imagination of the general public only for it all to fizzle out afterwards. Examples in the early 2020s include cryptocurrency, blockchain, and NFT hype – followed a little later by large language model AI hype, a bubble which has yet to burst as of mid-2023.
It's a cliche how online contents, and arguments on the Internet, tend to be unreasonable and disregard the truth. The algorithmic echo chambers of corporate social media have only amplified this, in a trend growing in tandem with the rise of online fake news.
Concerning the types of truthiness peculiar to conspiracy theorists and New Agers, the online growth and promulgation of such contents has been given its own word, "conspirituality", which became a widely used word in media reporting in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, when such contents went viral in combination with anti-vaccine messages.
What's in a word?
Both cranks who feel certain they have the truth unlike all who disagree, and people who more cynically want to sell or promote things to contrarians, often name the things they promote with the word 'truth' as part of the name. At least for websites, a stark divergence between such names and the nature of the things so named has led to the popularity of Badger's Law, which notes that "Websites with the word "Truth" in the URL have none in the posted content."
A large portion of other works with the word 'truth' in the title are similarly exercises in truthiness, though exceptions exist and seem to be more common in the world of books and movies than among websites.
- Badger's Law
- Bullshit — a franker way of saying truthiness
- Confirmation Bias
- Common sense
- Dunning-Kruger effect
- "How to Identify “Truthy” Tech Trends", Amber Case, 2023-07-07