On the evening of April 3, seven professors from seven departments gathered in Centennial to discuss the phenomenon that is “fake news” and how it can affect our democracy, our journalistic integrity, and our lives. The event was created by the Andruss Library and the panel was titled, “Fake News: A Panel Discussion.”
Each professor was given five minutes to pitch their own take on fake news and how it ties in with the department they teach here at the university.
First up was Mass Communications Instructor John-Erik Koslosky. He started off by saying, “Fake news is nothing new.” He affirmed this statement by telling a story about John Adams being the first president to partake in this practice of fake news. He also spoke about how fake news is motivated by profit and partisan politics.
Dr. Miller, a Communication Studies professor, spoke to how the term fake news has a definition problem. It could mean a couple of things, whether it’s fictional news, news that we don’t agree with, or “sensationalized news made for social media sharing.” This type of news plays into our prejudices and is used as propaganda.
From the Political Science department, Dr. Strine stressed the importance of being intelligent media consumers. “Be careful about what you read and see on the internet,” he said. Fake news is “bending truth for political gain,” and we must be mindful and careful when reading stories online.
“We are drawn to details that confirm our own existing beliefs,” spoke Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a Psychology Associate Professor here at Bloomsburg University. She talked of “cognitive biases” and the “bias blind spot.” The bias blind spot, in her words, “see oneself as less cognitively biased than others.”
A fiery and passionate speech presented by Philosophy professor, Dr. Lee, talked about our lack of ability and knowledge to weigh evidence. In Lee’s presentation, she spoke about different types of fake news. She says there is fake news that is used to embarrass or belittle a person and used Trump’s tweets as an example of this. She then adds that there is the “quasi-fake” news that has just enough truth to it that we can almost credit it. She used Trump’s claim of the Affordable Care Act “imploding” as an example of this. Lee ended by saying that this phenomenon is cheapening and repressing our critical thinking.
Dr. Lawrence from the English department broke the serious tone of the conversation by starting her presentation off with a humorous confession: her nine-year-old son helped her create her power point presentation due to the technological gap between the two of them. “A lot of this [fake news] is malicious,” she stated. She discussed how propaganda intersects with advertising and how it is a tool for fake news. Her presentation showed how name-calling, bandwagon, and scapegoating are tactics that are seen time and time again in the creation of fake news.
Finishing off the panel was Dr. Hickey from the History department. Hickey has read Russian newspapers on the daily for the past four decades. He sees similarities between Russian and US fake news. In Russia, they call these “active measures.” Active measures, by definition, is a Soviet term for the actions of political warfare conducted by the Soviet and Russian security services to influence the course of world events. Like all the panelists that presented before him, Hickey says fake news is “undermining of the truth itself.”
When their presentations concluded, questions were taken from the audience. One student asked why this fascination and conversation about fake news is so prevalent now. Almost in unison, the panelists answered, “Facebook.” Earlier in instructor Koslosky’s presentation, he discussed how 70% of fake news comes from Google and social media, mostly Facebook.
This event was a meeting of the minds. Professors from different disciplines coming together to fight a current issue that is becoming a troubling and daily part of our news consumption.
In times of helplessness, how can we fight back against fake news? Dr. Lee left us with this, “Fight with all our might.”
Pictured here are the faculty that took part in this panel
From L to R: Instructor Koslosky, Dr. Miller, Dr. Strine, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Lee, Dr. Lawrence, and Dr. Hickey