Campus Hosts ‘Fake News’ Symposium

“Fake news” may be big news these days, but it’s hardly new news. Who torched Rome in the year 64 C.E.? Nero pinned it, probably falsely, on the Christians, and the Neronian Persecution began.

The historical aspect of the phenomenon, together with its sociological and political implications and tips on how to identify it, were examined in the symposium “Fake News in History and Today” last month in the SETC Fusion Room.

Public Service Librarian Pamela Pfeiffer began the program by describing how fake news can be spotted and listed fact-checking websites and other useful tools. A panel discussion followed, with Lee Snaples (History) giving a historical overview, Charles Overstreet (Psychology/Sociology) telling why so much fake news takes root and Brian Johnson (Government) addressing its impact on the political landscape.

“Probably the best definition of fake news I’ve heard is ‘any news I don’t like,’” Snaples said. “Increasingly, we are not open to anything that doesn’t meet our internal reality.”

He added that, while fake news can be traced back to the Yellow Journalism era and beyond, it has grown stronger with technology. “It is much easier now to generate because of social media and with the ability to alter photographs electronically, and alter voice recordings,” he said.

Overstreet added, “It [fake news] is structured in such a way as to confirm our biases. At the same time we tend to be uncomfortable with that with which we do not agree.”

Snaples said that the symposium was well-received by a mostly student audience and may be repeated for faculty and staff sometime in the spring semester.