ENG-W 210: Fake News & Democracy in the Digital Age (Literacy & Public Life)

“If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (1889)

What does an educated person need to know about information and news, opinion and fact in the digital age? This is the guiding question that will lead our exploration of so-called “fake news,” disinformation, misinformation, and other forms of problematic information this term. As we are often reminded, we now inhabit an increasingly complex and confusing hyper-fast media landscape, where traditional forms of journalism and reporting have been radically reshaped and even supplanted by emerging forms of digital media. This course will give you the tools to engage intelligently in the major issues of our time; to analyze media of all kinds; to parse out the subtle distinctions between various kinds of problematic information; and to find credible, carefully-researched, and accurate journalism, news, and opinion on a variety of topics.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you

  • Develop a broad sense of literacy, which in this course means the capacity to think, read, and write about complex ideas and their historical, socio-cultural, and political dimensions;
  • Apply your developing literacy to public life and what it means to be an engaged and well-informed citizen of a democracy;
  • Speak and write intelligently and confidently about the historical, cultural, economic, and political development of “fake news,” misinformation, disinformation, satire, “culture jamming,” and other forms of problematic information;
  • Develop and support a compelling argument concerning fake news and problematic information as an idea in your own experience and research;
  • Analyze media artifacts in order to understand how they “work”;
  • Develop a basic understanding of how technology (and especially digital media) have changed how people get news, share ideas, and learn about the world and the social and cultural impact thereof;
  • Recognize and understand the multidisciplinary nature of a concept like “fake news” and its connection to major questions in epistemology (i.e., the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and various theories about how humans can know, where our opinions come from, how we learn, etc.);
  • Read and understand challenging academic texts such as scholarly articles and monographs; and
  • Learn how to parse out the often subtle distinctions between various kinds of problematic information and where/how to find credible, carefully-researched, and accurate news and information of all kinds.

Click here for the Course Syllabus; check back soon for course materials, handouts, projects, a full list of course readings/resources, and student work.

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Web Resources and Credible Journalism

In this space, you will find links to some of my favorite web resources for news, opinion, and research. Feel free to add your own materials to this space and share with the rest of us.

Truth Decay (Rand Corporation)

More than a catchy title, this comprehensive report examines the trends that fuel the American public’s growing distrust of facts, science, and traditional knowledge institutions: “an increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information” (from the website).

1A  

1A is a terrific news and information podcast from NPR. Perhaps my favorite show is the weekly “Friday News Roundup”: a 90-minute show that brings together some of the country’s top journalists, scholars, activists, politicians, and community leaders to discuss the biggest stories of the week (includes coverage of national and world politics).

False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources 

This is the Google doc that started it all: Dr. Melissa Zimdar’s massive list of popular “fake news” sites and helpful compendium of tips to avoid being duped.

ProPublica 

Independent, non-profit news source that produces some of the most trustworthy reporting anywhere. From their website: ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.

Frontline (PBS.org)

Frontline produces award-winning investigative journalism and documentary films.

Fake News Course Reading List 

This Medium post, by a University of Southern California writing professor, is a useful list of readings on all-things “fake news.” Also includes links to other helpful resources around the web.

Data & Society

From the website: The issues that Data & Society seeks to address are complex. The same innovative technologies and sociotechnical practices that are reconfiguring society – enabling novel modes of interaction, new opportunities for knowledge, and disruptive business paradigms – can be abused to invade people’s privacy, provide new tools of discrimination, and harm individuals and communities.

NYT’s The Daily

I really like this little podcast. Every weekday morning around 5:30am the news “drops” on my smartphone in a nice, tidy 20-25 minute package. I usually listen while I’m getting ready for school.

Snopes.com

If you haven’t heard of Snopes, you haven’t been paying attention. Dating back to the early days of the web, Snopes.com is the brainchild and labor of love of David Mikkelson, a folklorist, new media guru, and urban legend expert. It is considered by many to be the best “debunking” site for urban legends and fake news on the Internet today. Snopes.com is as much an invaluable resource as it is a really fun read.

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