Fake news a dark men­ace to truth, democ­racy and dis­course

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - NEWS - Breda Hef­fer­nan

MOD­ERN so­ci­ety is in the midst of a “cri­sis of truth” with ‘fake news’ ram­pant on so­cial me­dia and go­ing un­ques­tioned, a con­fer­ence was told.

The sym­po­sium on ‘Fac­tions, Fears and Fake News’ or­gan­ised by Trin­ity Long Room Hub Arts and Hu­man­i­ties Re­search In­sti­tute and New York’s Columbia Univer­sity last week heard that we are now liv­ing in a “post­truth” world.

Pro­fes­sor Todd Gitlin, of Columbia Univer­sity, said fake news, dis­in­for­ma­tion, and panic-driven as­saults on ev­i­dence and logic are all em­bed­ded in the tra­di­tion of the Counter-En­light­en­ment.

How­ever, he added that “what used to be car­ried from vil­lage to vil­lage as ru­mour... now flies around the world at the click of a key­board”.

Pro­fes­sor Dar­ryl Jones, of Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, said: “We are wit­ness­ing the coars­en­ing of po­lit­i­cal dis­course I would have hardly be­lieved pos­si­ble a decade ago.”

He said in this time of fake news, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump could in­sist “again and again the crowd for his in­au­gu­ra­tion was the big­gest ever”.

He also re­ferred to the cre­ation of “safe spa­ces” within univer­si­ties and warned this was sti­fling de­bate.

“Of course, univer­si­ties much be safe spa­ces if by that we should af­ford all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity pro­tec­tion from bul­lies and sex­ual ha­rass­ment... While not per­fect, univer­si­ties are quite good at this. But not safety from ex­po­sure to new ideas. We will be be­tray­ing the fu­ture by giv­ing our stu­dents no po­lit­i­cal or in­tel­lec­tual tools to mount their own re­sis­tance to these dark times,” he added.

Dr Fainche Ryan, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Loy­ola In­sti­tute at Trin­ity, said: “Truth mat­ters for the good of the in­di­vid­ual and the good of so­ci­ety.”

Stephen Rae, Ed­i­tor-in- Chief of In­de­pen­dent News and Me­dia — who mod­er­ated the Post Truth de­bate — said even be­fore the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and the elec­tion of Trump in the US, lies and mud-sling­ing were be­ing spread on so­cial me­dia sites such as Face­book.

In this post-truth era, there was an “en­tire ma­chine of mis­in­for­ma­tion” read­ily avail­able and tar­get­ing will­ing lis­ten­ers, he added.

“Fake news is erod­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and sci­en­tific facts are now be­ing openly ques­tioned — like smok­ing and the con­nec­tion with cer­tain types of cancer and cli­mate change. Face­book has no checks and bal­ances on its con­tent,” he warned.

FEARS AND FAC­TIONS: Dr Fainche Ryan pic­tured along­side Stephen Rae, Ed­i­tor-in-Chief of INM. Photo: Steve Humphreys

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