Truth, as we all know, is having a moment. What we used to think of as a fairly immutable concept has been thrown into doubt by accusations of ‘fake news’, the idea of ‘alternative facts’ and the spectre of a post-truth future. Reputable media outlets have gathered an army of fact checkers to counter these trends, but the question remains, how can we separate fact from fiction in a world where 5 billion comments are left on Facebook pages monthly and Twitter posts an average of 500 million tweets per day?
The issue hit the headlines earlier this year when Twitter added “Get the facts…” labels to two of President Trump’s tweets on the subject of mail-in balloting. The President responded by signing an Executive Order that attempted to limit the protections social media companies receive with regard to legal liability for content posted on their platforms.
This year’s International Archives Week joined the conversation through its theme of “Empowering Knowledge Societies”. It encouraged records and archives professionals to consider exactly what their role might be in relation to internet governance, because at the heart of any knowledge society lie issues of truth, trust and evidence.
Trinity Grammar School’s own archive contains more than 9000 catalogue entries, ranging from architectural plans, collections of photographs, LP recordings of the school choir and school blazers dating back to 1921. We thought we would highlight the role of the archive by asking the senior boys to give us ‘facts’ about the history of Trinity that we would then use the archive to fact check. The results were then posted on our Instagram account.
One of the most popular ‘facts’ given by the boys involved the existence of a WWII bunker underneath the Quad. Sadly, the rumours are untrue. Archives were able to track down an oral history that documented the digging of slit trenches as an air raid precaution, and they also know of a well that had previously existed on the Quad, but there is no evidence of a WWII bunker anywhere on the school grounds. Facts. So much less exciting than rumour!