My Q&A about fake news with UTSA’s ‘Sombrilla’ magazine

Silhouette with long nose.

How to spot fake news. (Photo credit: UTSA)

I did a Q&A recently on the topic of fake news with the staff at UTSA’s ‘Sombrilla’ magazine. That Q&A is now published and you can read it online here. In the Q&A I discuss the definition of fake news, why it’s so dangerous, and why it’s important to learn how to spot fake news and how to protect ourselves from it. Here’s an excerpt:

Is there any advice or tips you can give us to help us easily spot fake news?

Now more than ever, it’s vital to rely on trusted news organizations. Even ones that are biased, at least won’t make up facts out of thin air. But also if, from your point of view, news is too good (or bad) to be true, it’s probably not true. If a site’s logo looks not-quite-right or the page’s design is pretty bad, you’re probably dealing with a fake news site. And if a story only on a site you’ve just discovered and no other mainstream news source is covering it, that’s a sign the news is fake.

Read the rest of the Q&A here.

What does Trump’s election mean for digital freedom of speech?

President-elect Donald Trump holds a press conference.

President-elect Donald Trump holds a press conference (Photo credit: NPR)

As the shock of Donald Trump’s election victory is giving way to analysis about how his presidency will affect Americans’ lives, our digital freedom of speech deserves special consideration. The ability to express ourselves freely is a fundamental right guaranteed to us all.

There are three major elements that determine how free we are in our online expression: The press must be free to publish anything newsworthy about public officials without fear of serious reprisals. Online communications must be able to reach broad audiences without discrimination by internet service providers. And the government must not be able to spy indiscriminately on ordinary law-abiding Americans.

Before and during the campaign, Trump made pronouncements that suggest deep and widespread implications for digital freedom of speech if those ideas end up guiding his administration. As a scholar of digital communication, I am concerned about what he and his administration will do once in office. Trump’s actions could result in weaker protections for our free press, less competition and higher prices for online consumers, certain forms of online censorship and a return to an intrusive online surveillance regime. The public must prepare to stand up to oppose these infringements on our rights. Continue Reading

How should academics respond to Trump’s election?

Donald Trump during presidential debate.

Donald Trump during presidential debate. (Photo credit: NBC News)

Ever since the night of November 8, 2016, I’ve been struggling with how to reconcile my role as an educator and scholar with my impulse to respond as my heart dictates to the election of Donald Trump. If my interactions with colleagues since then are any indication, I’m not the only one going through such a struggle.

The struggle stems from my strong political convictions. Call them progressive, liberal, or whatever word for them is currently acceptable. I prefer to think of them as simple human decency. They include radical notions such as regarding immigrants, documented or not, as fellow human beings deserving of respect and compassion instead of scorn and scapegoating for global economic changes; regarding terrorists as aberrations within their claimed religious traditions rather than the norm , and not heaping verbal or physical violence on their home communities; regarding all human beings as equally deserving of respect, regardless of their skin color, ethnic origin, gender, religious belief or lack thereof, physical and mental abilities, and other differences — a respect that leads me to believe it’s not acceptable to mock individuals with disabilities or dismiss talk of sexual assault (whether real or ‘braggadocious’ ) as simply ‘ locker room talk,’ and that led me to recoil from a candidate (now president-elect) who called for violence against protesters at his rallies and continues to accuse five African American men of gang rape even after they have been exonerated by DNA evidence.

The campaign Donald Trump chose to wage, and his ultimate victory, was an assault on all those values, which I think most (which, ideally, all) members of the academic community share. In a campaign for the presidency of a liberal democracy, Donald Trump chose to run for the presidency of just the latter, mocking the norms, values, and traditions that have usually restrained democracies from devolving into simple tyrannies of the majority.

There is already a strong temptation among some in the academic community to simply observe and study how the Trump presidency unfolds over the next four years or more. I have been similarly tempted. But this was not an ordinary election, and the Trump presidency will not be an ordinary presidency. We face the prospect of a U.S. president who is utterly contemptuous of the norms, values, and traditions that fill the constitutional gaps of our democracies and keep them from descending into Putinist-like systems where the niceties of democracy are observed but their substance is gutted. Just look at this picture of formerly fierce Trump critic Mitt Romney dining with the president-elect to see how fragile those informal institutions could turn out to be.

I have become convinced that, as scholars and educators, we have an additional role to play in our societies and institutions over the next four years. That role is to resist, to the best of our ability, the encroachment of illiberalism that Trump and his allies around the world represent.

Continue Reading