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Political, social, and cultural polarization in America, which has been discussed in previous sessions, has been accompanied by dramatic differences in what people believe is true. Disagreement on matters of empirical fact can lead to the spread of falsehoods, whether intentional (disinformation) or not (misinformation).

  • Vaccines cause autism and sterility.
  • Ukraine is run by Nazis.
  • The U.S. Army's bioweapons lab created the coronavirus.
  • The Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
  • Trump and the Russians were in cahoots in the 2016 election.
  • The 2020 election was stolen.

Purveyors of falsehood, whether foreign governments, political actors, or run-of-the-mill con men, are aided by technology and the rise of digital media - where algorithms are driven by platforms’ profit motive.

A third of Americans now get their daily news from Facebook, and more than 60% rely on social media overall. Trust in traditional news media is at record lows – 66% of U.S. adults say they have little or no trust in newspapers, TV, and radio.

In the historical extreme, authoritarians have used false narratives to unravel democracies. At stake fundamentally is trust – trust in the news, trust in each other, trust in ourselves.

Where do you get your news? The new media platforms do not share the journalistic standards of old media. Can this be fixed – and should it? All the while, should we continue to honor ‘free speech’?

How serious is the threat of disinformation? What is the solution? Some would regulate social media more intensely or remove the profit motive that drives the algorithms. Others would strive to educate the populace.

What would you do?

Please go to this link to prepare discussion.