How It WorksWhy do our leaders keep lying? The real cost...

Why do our leaders keep lying? The real cost of widespread deception


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Cleo Anderson considers the moral implications of our leader’s lying and potential ways of combatting the effects of this type of deception.

From Donald Trump’s recent court ruling on business fraud or Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s questionable claims in his recent net-zero speech, our political leaders are regularly caught in lies. Despite the legal frameworks we have in democracy, it does not deter our leaders. While deception may be nothing new to politics, I wanted to consider if there was something we could do about the widespread culture of lying.

Many of us growing up will have been told of the boy who cried wolf. A simple story that warns us if we make false claims that when it is time to tell the truth, nobody will believe us. Rather than being eaten by a wolf, this tale teaches us that lying is not only dangerous but will never play in our favour. 

Yet it seems lying, especially if you’re in political office is now standard. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is rewarded, but false claims do not lead to less trust or even less platforming. In some cases, we see political groups back certain candidates with even more vigour. And it has led me to ask, why?

Why are we allowing those in positions of power to not tell the truth? Perhaps we are in the era of ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ and ‘post-truth’. There is no middle ground or scientific fact that we can agree on; instead, our opinions and emotions lead the debate in whichever direction suits – be that left or right, blue or red. If there is no agreement among us, then of course lying can take root. 

Former president Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate on April 4, 2023, in Palm Beach, Florida, after being arraigned earlier in the day in New York City. EVAN VUCCI / AP

So, I kept thinking. And once again my childhood reminded me of the wooden toy that dreamed of being a boy. Pinocchio simply had to tell a lie and his nose would grow. All who were present could see his nose lengthening with each falsity. (Un)Fortunately, our politicians (or anyone in the public eye) will never see their lies cause such a physical distortion. But how do we even know when someone is lying?  A post on social media (X or otherwise) can be posted in a split second and gain popularity in the seconds and minutes after. What stops anyone from posting an outright lie? I guess, nothing.

Traditional media and independent groups have tried to ‘fight back’, with fact-checking teams, whether it’s BBC’s Verify, or, checking viral videos and correcting politicians’ tweets. Yet even with the help of AI, these services still only provide a counterargument (a clean-up team so to speak) when the damage may already be done. 

What can we do? Some people believe it is our own responsibility to question our sources. Learning to be sceptical of everything we read and hear, especially of those who are in the pursuit of gaining (more) power. We must remember that without the fear of Pinocchio’s nose growth, lying may seem the easiest and most rewarding path.

Is there any hope? Perhaps it is most important not to be disheartened. It’s clear looking throughout history, lying, falsehoods, and disinformation are nothing new. Politicians, public figures, and companies have been lying to us for years and will probably continue to do so. I think being aware that it is possible, asking why someone wants you to believe something and finally being willing to debate ideas is the best place to start. Beyond the quick-witted takedowns we enjoy online, we need to foster an open and honest dialogue that involves empathy, listening and (an attempt at) common sense. 

Cleo Anderson
Cleo Anderson
Cleo Anderson is a freelance content specialist and journalist based between the Netherlands, UK and Jamaica. She has previously worked in national and international broadcast television news in the UK and Jamaica. She holds a bachelor's degree in European Stuides (French) from King's College London. Cleo is currently pursuing a master's in Media and Creative Industries at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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