WaIS Seminar: Fake News!

Author: Thomas Davidson 
Google Trends Graph for Fake News
Google Trends Graph for Fake News

I became aware of this week’s Web and Internet Sciences Seminar conveniently just as I was working on my dissertation proposal on much the same topic. This week’s speaker was Nick Anstead, Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Director of the LSE’s Politics and Communication MSc. Nick was speaking today on Fake News, something which my dissertation on the impact of Social Media on politics looks at. Nick’s talk aimed to debunk some of the myths of Fake News, offer a more appropriate definition in the eyes of history, and then suggest how we might deal with the problem.

The first point Nick made was not to believe the fake news hype and this was a running theme throughout, emphasized by some “flashy” PowerPoint graphics! He was keen for the audience to understand that everyone was susceptible not only to fake news itself, but also the rhetoric surrounding it. He noted that Fake News is not necessarily a new phenomenon, and that one only had to look at propaganda and the emergence of the Yellow Press in America to see this. However, in this era, as more and more people are getting their news online, and this often gives it a higher propensity to influence, yet a lower rate of reliability in my opinion, fake news was still a problem.

However, instead of granting it an isolated status of importance, Nick instead floated the idea that fake news should be considered in light of the wider changes rocking the world political sphere. Fake news was not a result of, so much as a symptom of these wider changes. Nick went into more detail exploring this question and the other changes in the world currently, and this can be seen in the Storify below. Nick also said that the real question we needed to be asking was why so many people are keen to believe Fake News stories, and that this in turn would lead us to discover why it existed.

The talk elicited plenty of response and discussion from the audience, with one particularly interesting question asking the difference, in Nick’s opinion, between fake news and propaganda, if he were to draw parallels between the two. This generated even more discussion and showed what a hot topic this is at the moment.

I’d like to thank Nick for a very interesting talk, and direct you to a Storify collection of the tweets. I’d also like to say just how impressed I am Nick managed to give the whole talk, whilst holding a mug of tea; that’s dedicated to your brew!

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