The term “alternative facts” was a phrase coined by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway to defend a false statement by press secretary Sean Spicer about the attendance of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
When pressed during an interview to explain why Spicer would “utter a provable falsehood”, Conway stated that Spicer was simply giving “alternative facts.”
As the Washington Post noted, this “wasn’t the first time the Trump team and its supporters have responded to journalists calling out their falsehoods by claiming the truth isn’t so black and white or that it’s not a big deal.”
Indeed, many said it’s part of a broader “gaslighting” strategy used by Trump and his allies to control public discussion.
At its most basic level, an alternative fact is a statement that is presented as true, but is actually false or misleading.
It is essentially a form of propaganda or disinformation that is designed to manipulate public opinion or shape public perception in a way that is favorable to the person or group presenting the alternative facts.
Origin of the concept
The concept of alternative facts has been around for centuries, as politicians and other leaders have always sought to spin the truth or present a distorted version of events in order to further their own agendas.
One of the most concerning aspects of alternative facts is that they can be very difficult to discern from actual facts, especially if they are presented in a convincing manner.
They may be dressed up in the guise of legitimate information, or may be woven into a larger narrative that seems plausible.
This can make it challenging for people to critically evaluate the information they are presented with, and can make it easier for alternative facts to gain traction and spread rapidly.
In discussing the origins of the phrase, Psychology Today notes that George Orwell wrote the novel 1984 “which portrays a totalitarian state that limited freedom of thought by creating its own language called ‘Newspeak.’ The political purpose of of Newspeak was to reduce the English language to simple concepts that reinforced the totalitarian dominance of the State. Moreover, words with negative meanings were removed, such that ‘bad’ became ‘ungood.'”
Many news reports also described Conway’s use of the phrase as “Orwellian.”
Use of “Alternative Facts” in a sentence
- Many people were skeptical of the government’s claim that the economy was doing well, given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, leading some to accuse them of presenting alternative facts.
- The politician’s attempt to deflect criticism by presenting alternative facts about their record was met with widespread backlash from the media and the public.
- As the use of alternative facts becomes more prevalent, it is important for people to be vigilant in fact-checking information and not falling victim to manipulation.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.