Implications of “Fake News” and Internet Trolling for Democracy, Politics and Citizen Inclusion
Social media-based production and consumption of news poses not only unprecedented challenges to journalism’s gatekeeper role in society but also to democratic processes themselves. Social media’s effects reverberate around the world, altering events on a global scale. Although there is a constantly changing kaleidoscope of particular manifestations of these challenges, questions of credibility and truthfulness as represented through information outlets have recently gained renewed prominence. This was a problem foreseen in a 1988 article, “Struggle in cyberspace: Fact and fiction on the World Wide Web,” by James E. Katz. Of course in the intervening years, this struggle has broadened well beyond the World Wide Web to encompass an array of rapidly evolving digital outlets and technologies.
A sense of crisis has gripped many quarters, the authority of democratic processes and institutions have been questioned, and calls for action reverberate throughout boardrooms, college campuses, and legislatures. Some steps are already being taken by media giants, but to unknown effect and with virtually no transparency or accountability. Moreover, such steps have been greeted by telling criticism on ideological and oligopolistic grounds. This conference was designed to gain a clearer understanding of the scope and implications of this dramatic struggle between fact and fiction, which now goes to the heart of the journalistic enterprise. Held during the runoff to the French election, it was remarkably timely. Practitioners and subject-matter experts were invited to give brief papers on selected topics which were then followed by interrogative discussion. There was an open “call for papers,” peer-reviewed by the conference’s international scientific advisory board, so that non-traditional ideas of rising younger scholars and practitioners could also be considered for inclusion in the sessions.
Results: (www.bu.edu/com/journalism-and-truth , #journalismandtruth). This event attracted 100 participants over three days, including an international cadré of younger experts and very senior members of the journalism profession, as well as sociologists, philosophers, and computer scientists. An anthology is slated to appear in 2018, edited by James E. Katz, Social Media and Journalism’s Search for Truth; it will draw primarily on essays presented at the event. A conference website and pamphlet have been set up; the event was live-streamed. Faculty and students from the area networked with each other and the event was viewed by audiences on three continents. Ample time was scheduled for informal discussion so that discrete ideas could be explored in depth and interpersonal connections forged. Following the conference, some of the talks and interview excerpts were posted online to further the event’s impact. Co-sponsored with BU’s Division of Emerging Media Studies, the Rafik B Hariri Institute of Computing, the Andrew R. Lack Professorship, Department of Journalism, College of Communications and the French Consul of Boston.
We are grateful to BU’s Division of Emerging Media Studies, the Rafik B Hariri Institute of Computing, the Andrew R. Lack Professorship, Department of Journalism, College of Communications and the French Consul of Boston for Co-Sponsoring this Event.