In a world of alternative realities and multiple reporting systems, we see and hear stories based on the ideology of the viewer. Stephen Colbert’s term of “truthiness” has entered an entirely new genre, and at this point, we are seeing the Rashomon Effect as part of the misinformation dial.
What do you see in the image above? A young man greeting a Native American while wearing a hat that has become associated with white supremacy –or- a young man in a group of other boys that are smirking and making fun of a Native American?
The side that you choose is dependent upon knowing the full story, and we sorely lack that approach in today’s society.
“The Rashomon effect occurs when the same event is given contradictory interpretations by different individuals involved. The effect is named after Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder is described in four mutually contradictory ways by its four witnesses.”
One of the reasons that YouTube is not a reliable reporting source is that segments of an hour- long video of the event in Washington, D.C. that prompted the nationwide outrage have been released to show only a specific side that validates a social or political opinion. YouTube videos can be sliced, diced, and edited to project a viewpoint.
The only way that one can get a perspective on this particular example is to watch the hour-long video that contains the many complex elements of the behavior of that day. From the Black American preacher/activist making inflammatory accusations against the Native Americans and their religious beliefs, the chanting of the all-male group sent to Washington, D.C. from Covington Catholic Boys High School in Kentucky as anti-choice representatives, the attendance of many Native Americans as part of their ceremony held each year to honor Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, and the entrance of Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder and Vietnam War Veteran, stepping in between the boys wearing their MAGA hats and the activists.
People from a variety of perspectives have taken a stand on this occurrence, while not comprehending a broader scope. This is the basis of the Rashomon Effect and why it is escalating due to misinformation and disinformation. Each person can view an event differently based on their background, experiences, expectations, and information at hand.
To Get to the Truth, we Need to Dig Deeper
The reality of our existence is that we live in a short attention span and lazy research era. Here’s the thing with “digging deeper” to find the golden nuggets of information: No one wants to do it, and everyone relies on the researchers to do the big reveals. Where once we took pride in our critical thinking abilities, we now turn to only a small percentage for information, with few looking at the credentials or credibility, and most merely read the catchy headlines.
In a Wired article entitled FACEBOOK, SNAPCHAT AND THE DAWN OF THE POST-TRUTH ERA, the author Antonio Garcia Martinez includes an essential point:
“When it comes to the internet, the technologists’ response is very different: They collectively swear by the algorithm, fancy talk for a recipe of logical steps and maybe some math. Our brains can’t parse the jumble of content—part art, part trash—our friends generate on Facebook or the wider web, so an algorithm sorts it for us. Mark Zuckerberg, or really, his News Feed algorithm, is now editor-in-chief of the world’s content (for better or worse).”
These are the people that we are turning to for the sources of our information, and when we create our opinions, it is their spin that gives us the stories that we believe. As social media enhances our personal filter bubbles, everyone has their own favorites that enhance their version of the truth. It is, therefore, no big surprise that when you see variations in a news story dependent upon the source as well as what stories they are reporting.
At one point or another, everyone has experienced the Rashomon Effect. You might find yourself with a group of friends relating an adventure that you all shared, only to see that there are pieces of the experience that you were either unaware of or just observed differently. Each member of the group has a segment that is part of the truth; however, the whole truth may not be exposed until all tell their versions of it. If you are a sports fan, you may see the effect happening whenever you attend a game. Even the instant replays don’t always address the conflicts.
There is a radical difference between relating a story to friends and relying on the same kind of disjointed information for the formulation of opinions and actions that you take that might affect your life and that of your family. When we turn to those that we think of as “experts” in the field of reporting, we demand and expect truth without bias. Unfortunately, the era of reporting took a turn away from that philosophy and adopted a ratings gauge instead of reporting all of the facts.
Is Anyone Wrong or Right?
In 2016, the CJC (Canadian Journal of Communication) published a paper by Robert Anderson of Simon Fraser University entitled: The Rashomon Effect and Communication. The author wrote the paper based on student input from those that had watched the 1950 Japanese movie called “Roshomon.”
“The Rashomon effect, most say when asked immediately after viewing it, is the difference in perspectives concerning a single event or process. A few others proposed that the Rashomon effect appears where the facts are not known, and consequently varying (typically called un-factual) versions of events are put into circulation by participants or witnesses. Some of these viewers go so far as to claim that these differences in perspective (and the Rashomon effect) undermine the world of facts. Finally, the interpretations of a considerable number of student viewers involved the idea that one of the four main narratives is the truth and the others are therefore lies, and that although one character is not lying, the others are. This prompts a curious search for the most plausible account of the incident. Though not entirely wrong-headed, these common interpretations of Rashomon diminish the power of both the film and the Rashomon effect. Moreover, these kinds of responses mislead viewers of the film, who then forget to acknowledge its most important insight.”
One of the key takeaways from this publication is a single word: “un-factual.” Those offering input on the film that they viewed are not accusing individuals of deliberately lying, but are instead entrenched in being un-factual.
While the environment of academia encourages us to question what we see and hear, it is entirely different in the adult world outside of the influence of university professors. We are expected to make snap decisions based on the data that is presented to us, the experiences that we have, and the knowledge that we have learned.
Time to Develop a Method to Reveal the Facts
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
— Galileo Galilei
We have evolved beyond the point of just examining a condition and making a judgment call based on the information with which we are presented. The era that we have entered takes us beyond the Rashomon Effect because it is now reliant on a perspective that is being deliberately skewed to match the agenda of others. While this may have always been a part of our background, this is now at the front of everything that we see and hear.
If we are to be a conscious society that expands beyond the knee-jerk responses that are being programmed into us by the news and social media puppet masters, we require a method to compare and extract the core truth as well as a complete story. The creation of the current status of indecision and mass misinformation has been the cart before the horse. It’s time for a re-evaluation so that we can morph to a level that makes sense, rather than decisions based on partial truths.
Just as we have software that scans and analyzes the potential threats for viruses and malware, we need to have AI that reaches out, compares the data, and amends those pieces that are missing, while removing those that are false.
There is a demand for new tools to be used as part of the human experience to complement our knowledge, intuition, perspective, and the data that we receive to create truthful assessments.