“FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” Donald Trump tweeted recently.
Just as the American presidential campaign came to a close, the term ‘fake news’ opened a new front in perennial debates over journalistic practices and ethics, government control and censorship, and the pervasive role of social media and search in today’s public sphere. But what exactly is it? How does it vary, if at all, from propaganda, disinformation, misinformation, and that seemingly ancient practice, spin? In what ways might it threaten the credibility of journalism and, broader yet, the vitality of public space in democratic societies? Do today’s dilemmas over it differ markedly from information wars past generations have faced?
This meeting brought together key stakeholders to examine ‘fake news’ and explore these questions that have become critical to journalism and public debate in 2017. We generated critical conversations and understanding at all levels: scope and meaning of the term, nature and targets of the threat, consequences of the public concern over it, approaches to alleviate its prevalence, standards of journalism and standards of law and human rights, and much else. While we do not expect to reach conclusions on all issues, we fostered a common vocabulary for thinking through it, generated a research and reporting agenda from which participants and others may wish to draw, and considered whether there is value in developing a framework to address the issue at a time of global threat to freedom of expression.