In a conversation hosted by Stephen Khan of The Conversation UK, Nick Anstead, Irina Borogan and Salil Tripathi discuss fake news — what do we know about it and what should we do about it?
Moderator Stephen Khan is Executive Editor of the Conversation and the Editor of The Conversation UK. Nick Anstead is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Irina Borogan is an investigative journalist from Russia, and Salil Tripathi is an author and editor, and currently the Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
The discussion included briefs from Anstead on his recent book for SAGE Publishing (Social Science Space’s parent), What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Fake News? and his understanding of the usefulness of labeling fake news. Indeed, Anstead argues that the rise of fake news reflects a situation in contemporary liberal democracies. He also highlighted the risk of overzealous social media companies taking down content that is not illegal combined with authoritarian regimes that use the language of fake news to police content and information distribution. Among several points made, he proposes the solution to be discursive; not about “institutional tinkering or grand regulation”, but thinking about how citizens relate to particular democratic institutions and create a new sense of legitimacy in these institutions without trying to recreate the past structures.
Journalist Borogan demonstrated how fake news consists of many different parts, including troll factories and media outlets set up for the purpose of spreading misinformation under the regime of Vladimir Putin. She offered one example of the problem of spreading disinformation through the context of the Kremlin’s publication of misinformation against the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. On the issue of trust and the role of journalists and the media, Borogan described the “special” media landscape in Russia under the Kremlin’s control. With no trust and only one source of information, Borogan states that people will believe what they hear and can be content with hearing what they want to hear from the news. While social media and content produced by independent investigative journalists are more popular, undermining the trust in Kremlin news, people still trust the authorities. They are content with hearing what they want to hear. Use platforms like Youtube is not enough, as the environment and media landscape is “huge and complicated”.
Tripathi began his talk with the question of power, who controls it and the notion of facts being enough to determine the truth. He exemplified how the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in India has weaponized information utilizing their army to spread a particular narrative and message with an element of truth and an element of what seems to be real. Tripathi demonstrates how to everyday citizens, if it seems true, it must be true! By slightly tweaking past histories and narratives and using platforms such as Twitter, a much more nuanced and evolutionary story of historical heroes is ignored. As he states, “Twitter doesn’t do nuance”, and so through repeated narratives that undermine the heroes of the past, those with power can aim to create a new narrative. His paraphrased quote, “Truth is trying to get itself together and the lie has gone halfway around the world” accurately summarizes the speed by which misinformation can travel.
You can watch and listen to the full discussion at the recording below: