Buyer Beware: Southeastern faculty tackle trend of ‘Fake News’
Friday, March 24, 2017
by: Rene Abadie
HAMMOND – Anyone plugged in, especially if they’re on Twitter, has likely heard the
term ‘fake news’ lately, but many questions surround this resurgence of partisan journalism.
Members of the communication faculty at Southeastern Louisiana University tackled these questions at a panel discussion sponsored by the university’s Sims Memorial Library and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.
Participants in the panel, held Tuesday, March 21, included four Southeastern communication experts on the topics of media and research: Claire Procopio, Joe Burns, and Joe Mirando; and Stephen Sanders of the library’s Reference Department.
Mirando, who has a strong background in newspaper reporting, said that while fake news may seem like something new to most people, it is anything but.
“When you take a look at the kinds of things we hold dear -- like the Constitution, the First Amendment, and the ideals behind us becoming a country and a democracy during the American Revolution -- these were all put together by people who were manipulating how we perceive the truth,” he said. “If you study the journalism of that period, it was based on partisan politics, church concerns, etc. Truth was basically considered to be ‘what best serves us.’”
In the late 1800s, Mirando said there was a shift in reporting in which journalists began to embrace a style based on investigation and observable evidence. Conversely, the old style fell into disfavor and even ill-repute. Mirando fears, however, that with the advent of virtual reality and artificial intelligence technologies, the old style of advocacy journalism will return and the trend of fake news production will rise to new extremes.
With a background in radio and web technology, Burns also shares this concern. He pointed to technologies such as Photoshop and Voco as examples. Currently in the beta phase, once completed Voco will allow users to take a voice recording of a person and, simply put, create a voice identical to theirs, he explained.
“I can literally erase the words she spoke and use her voice to say whatever I want ‘her’ to say,” he said. “Fake news is going to go through video, audio, and within a year these things will exist. If you would like to see me riding a unicorn to work and yelling something like ‘I shall teach how to run through a plate glass window today,’ you can do it; and it sounds like me saying it.”
So what are people to do in this brave, new “Orwellian” world? Procopio, who specializes in public speaking and rhetoric, said consumers will have to take on a more “buyer beware” attitude, while citizen watchdogs groups and reporters will face more pressure than ever before to keep media and officials honest. But she warned against the average news consumer becoming jaded from the deluge of propaganda and hoaxes.
“Our temptation as consumers, I think, is to shut down, and to say ‘I don’t care anymore, this doesn’t really affect my day-to-day so I’m going to quit being a significant news consumer,’” she said. “I think the reaction one needs to have is the opposite. You need to consume lots of news so your ‘detector’ will be able to go off and say ‘this feels off to me.’”
Sanders, who served decades as a chaplain in the National Guard, offered a perspective taken from the pages of postmodernism, which holds that truth is often determined by the most powerful.
“I think the answer is that the people who don’t have power want it, and they use fake news to reach for it,” he said. “There are also those who use fake news to protect and defend those with power from others trying to take power from them. This makes it very difficult to sort out when you’re trying to listen to both sides. When you begin to look at it from this dynamic it becomes, I think, easier to understand what’s really going on.”