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I am reading the Economist and have a question about this fragment: a public much less given to trust than once it was.

The entire sentence is as follows (emphasis mine):

Helped by new technology, a deluge of facts and a public much less given to trust than once it was, some politicians are getting away with a depth and pervasiveness of falsehood.

In my opinion, according to the context, this means that people are more prone to trust others and hence such politicians can immune from punishment. However, one of my friends said it means, on the contrary, that people are less likely to trust others than they were.

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    What do you think "much less given to trust" means? (Hint: The "public" is not being offered as a gift to someone/something. "Given" has a different sense here.)
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 13, 2016 at 1:19
  • (I'll add that the overall statement does not make a lot of sense -- the writer has left out some critical factor.)
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 13, 2016 at 1:22
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    Your friend is correct in this case; the mistake, however, is understandable given the poorly written sentence. (Why less trust would lead to more falsehood is confusing, especially in light of the prior factors supporting that possibility.) Sep 13, 2016 at 1:23

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Your friend is correct; the sentence implies that (unlike earlier) the current-day public decides based on propaganda rather than trust.

Let me quote the sentence along with the preceding and succeeding sentences (from the same link - The Economist):

There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts more freely and with less resistance than used to be the case. Helped by new technology, a deluge of facts and a public much less given to trust than once it was, some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.

In the sentence of interest (italicised above for clarity), it appears that the confusion is created by the usage of the term fact in an obscure sense of an assertion which is not necessarily true (see the definition below).

It further appears that the author's intent was to convey that the public these days are prone to using the deluge of information to get swayed by repeated false assertions rather than distilling the information to reach reasonable conclusions based on actual facts and their own beliefs(trust). Using the term deluge of information instead of deluge of facts in the sentence could have probably been less confusing.

Webster's 1913 Dictionary:

Fact n

4. The assertion or statement of a thing done or existing; sometimes, even when false, improperly put, by a transfer of meaning, for the thing done, or supposed to be done; a thing supposed or asserted to be done; as, history abounds with false facts.

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