April 23rd – 25th 2017

Journalism and the Search for Truth in an Age of Social Media: Implications of “Fake News” and Internet Trolling for Democracy, Politics and Citizen Inclusion


Social media-based production and consumption of news poses not only unprecedented challenges to journalism’s gatekeeper role in society but also to democratic processes themselves. Social media’s effects reverberate around the world, altering events on a global scale. Although there is a constantly changing kaleidoscope of particular manifestations of these challenges, questions of credibility and truthfulness as represented through information outlets have recently gained renewed prominence. This was a problem foreseen in a 1988 article, “Struggle in cyberspace: Fact and fiction on the World Wide Web,” by James E. Katz. Of course in the intervening years, this struggle has broadened well beyond the World Wide Web to encompass an array of rapidly evolving digital outlets and technologies.

A sense of crisis has gripped many quarters, the authority of democratic processes and institutions have been questioned, and calls for action reverberate throughout boardrooms, college campuses, and legislatures. Some steps are already being taken by media giants, but to unknown effect and with virtually no transparency or accountability. Moreover, such steps have been greeted by telling criticism on ideological and oligopolistic grounds. This conference is designed to gain clearer understanding of the scope and implications of this dramatic struggle between fact and fiction, which now goes to the heart of the journalistic enterprise, Boston University will hold interconnected sessions April 23-25, 2017.

During these sessions, social media’s interaction with journalism and democracy will be analyzed from philosophical, ethical, practical and political perspectives. Experts from these fields will examine the current situation and consider likely future trajectories. Drawing on such an array of specialties, and by taking a cross-cutting approach, the event co-sponsors anticipate that new insights will be gained into the high-pressure world of journalism and its responsibilities. Discussions will be aimed at laying the conceptual groundwork for recommendations and action at the professional, procedural and policy levels.

Practitioners and subject-matter experts will be invited to give brief papers on selected topics which will then be followed by interrogative discussion. There will also be an open “call for papers,” to be peer-reviewed by the conference’s international scientific advisory board, so that non-traditional ideas of rising younger scholars and practitioners can also be considered for inclusion in the sessions.

Audiences, both attending in-person and participating via live-streaming sessions, will have an opportunity to raise questions and contribute viewpoints. Ample time is also scheduled for informal discussion so that discrete ideas can be explored in depth and serendipitous interpersonal connections can be forged. Following the conference, selected papers will be published online and in special issues of peer-reviewed journals so that the ideas developed and expressed during the conference can receive wide circulation. Some talks and interview excerpts will also be posted online to further the event’s impact.

This event is co-sponsored by the Andrew R. Lack Professorship, BU Department of Journalism and the Feld Family Professorship in Emerging Media, Division of Emerging Media Studies in BU’s College of Communication and BU’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering.


Conference Website


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