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Fake News

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  • UserElla McPherson, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge; John Naughton, Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology, OU
  • ClockWednesday 26 April 2017, 12:00-14:00
  • HouseRoom B4, Institute of Criminology.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Johanna J. S. Finnemann.

Until recently ‘fake news’ was something restricted to April Fools Day in the public perception, however the lead-up to the EU referendum in the UK and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump have popularised a new connotation of the term. Various dictionaries picked ‘post-truth’, ‘post-factual’ and ‘fake news’ as their phrases of the year 2016 reflecting a rise in the concern over the intentional spreading of misinformation in highly-charged political or social matters. Furthermore the growing distrust of objective facts has been linked to anti-intellectualism and anti-science sentiments. So where do we as academics stand in this brave new world of alternative facts, truthful hyperboles, hoaxes and circular reporting? Were the events of last year a watershed moment in the history of journalism and science or a manifestation of a long-term trend? And what are we to play in the discourse about objective versus subjective reality? We will be joined in our discussion by Professor John Naughton and Ella McPherson.

Professor John Naughton is Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the British Open University and a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (Cambridge) where he is currently leading a project on conspiracy theories in democratic societies. As an active blogger and journalist for the Observer he can also offer a journalist’s perspective into the role of technology in society and the impact of the digital age on research and politics. Has the internet really made it easier to check the facts or is the abundance of information muddying the waters?

Ella McPherson is a Lecturer in the Sociology of New Media and Digital Technology (Cambridge) and a Research Associate of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights where her research focuses on the role of social media in human rights, accountability and content creation. Social media has generally been seen as a major driving force behind the recent shift in public opinion formation. It has also blurred the lines between experts and non-experts which can be both seen as empowering or as leading to dangerous information grazing. What role is social media really playing in our society and is it promoting falsehoods and distrust of the facts provided by scientists or rather offering new avenues of emancipation and autonomy?

This talk is part of the Cambridge PhD Clinic series.

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