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Sound Off

Sound Off: Telling Truths

Fall 2018

Why have alternative facts and recent misinformation campaigns been so successful, and how dangerous is their impact on American democracy?


Pablo Boczkowski, professor of communication studies and co-editor of Trump and the Media (2018)

The cultural authority of science, journalism, medicine, law and other knowledge-making institutions has been increasingly in question. If it continues, this trend could potentially undermine the foundations of the project of enlightenment — evidence-based government, public policy, education, health and so on.


David Rapp

David Rapp, professor of psychology and of learning sciences

People don’t necessarily have the resources or awareness to know how to check information that they’re reading. Or sometimes they don’t have the energy or time or motivation. So people aren’t sure or aren’t well-practiced in how to check whether the sources they’re hearing from have vested interests. And listeners sometimes have particular views that they want to be true. So if something they’re reading aligns with what they believe to be true, they’re more likely to accept it.

ellen shearer

Ellen Shearer, professor of journalism and co-author of Truth Counts: A Practical Guide for News Consumers (2018)

We cannot agree on basic facts because of the cacophony of misinformation and disinformation from so many different sources. Societies need methods of settling on facts. We need to be able to say, “We can make a decision based on these facts we all agree on. We may disagree on what to do about these facts, but we can agree on the facts.” If we get to a point where people think facts are fungible, it will be very hard for communities and countries to function.

alvin tillery

Alvin Tillery, associate professor of political science

There used to be a time in politics when Americans waited for information to come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Congressional Budget Office before they decided if a proposed policy was good or bad. Now the partisan environment has completely destabilized those institutions. Not only do people no longer wait for these institutions to have their say, but if politicians don’t like what they’re getting from them, they just tell people that it’s fake news. Once we leave this hyperpartisan cycle, we’re going to be left in a position where we no longer have institutions that can vet credible information for the American electorate. The next set of people to control our institutions will have a much more enfeebled set of mechanisms for telling Americans that these are the facts. That’s what’s really dangerous.

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