It’s what the chattering classes have been chattering about since election day—the wave of fake news that rolled through America’s political discourse in the 2016 presidential campaign via social media, swamping voters with false reports ranging from the pope endorsing Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton helping run a child sex ring at a Washington pizzeria. Professors, pollsters, pundits, and journalists have been debating the ways that fakery may have influenced the election, and what can be done about this new disturbing trend.
But how new is it? In his 1998 article “Struggle in Cyberspace: Act and Friction on the World Wide Web,” James E. Katz foretold the avalanche of fake news. Katz, the Feld Professor of Emerging Media at the College of Communication, wrote in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: “Any kind of lie can be told, and, with the Web authoring tools so readily available, an undocumented lie can be made to look as real as the most carefully documented research finding.” Juliet Floyd, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of philosophy, says concerns over citizens’ ability to separate the wheat of truth from the chaff of exaggeration, propaganda, and outright falsehoods dates back at least to Plato.
Now, Floyd, a philosopher and historian of logic, mathematics, and science, and Katz, director of COM’s Divison of Emerging Media and its Center for Mobile Communication Studies, are teaming up to present an international symposium, Journalism and the Search for Truth in an Age of Social Media, at BU today and tomorrow.