April 2017: Journalism and the Search for Truth

Journalism and the Search for Truth in the Age of Social Media


Hosted by the College of Communication’s Divison of Emerging Media, the conference, “Journalism and the Search for Truth in the Age of Social Media“, took place on April 24-25, 2017, at Boston University.

As the journalism profession struggles to respond to social media’s proliferating role, fresh social scientific and philosophical perspectives are required to comprehend news in relationship to the pursuit of truth. Such perspectives will allow insight into the limits and potential of news creation. Moreover, they will yield a firmer grasp of professional journalism’s role as the public consumes and responds to news.

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.

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.

This was an issue foreseen by James E. Katz’s 1998 article, “Struggle in cyberspace: Fact and friction on the World Wide Web.” 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. Indeed, the struggle has become a pivotal dimension concerning how people come to grips with their reality.

Consequently, a sense of crisis has gripped many quarters as the authority of democratic processes and institutions have been questioned. One response has been calls for action that are now reverberating throughout boardrooms, college campuses, and legislatures. In response, 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 philosophical, ideological and oligopolistic grounds.

To pursue a 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 24-25, 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 give brief papers on selected topics which will then be followed by interrogative discussion. The the talks are organized into panels. In each panel there will be a brief presentation by the paper author followed by an extended commentary from among panelists.

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.

For more information, visit the conference website.

Monday April 24, 2017

9:00 AM Registration & coffee

9:30 AM Welcome and Introduction. James E. Katz & Dean Thomas E. Fiedler, Boston University

9:45 AM Panel 1: The journalistic crisis: The Fourth Estate, social media, and communicating the truth. Panel chair: Chris Daly, Boston University

  • David Karpf, George Washington University
  • Dominique Cardon, Sciences Po
  • Craig T. Robertson, Michigan State University

11:00 Short break

11:15 AM Panel 2: Social responses to fake news: fears, trust, and knowledge. Panel chair: Jessica Baldwin-Phillips, Fordham University

  • Matt Carlson, St. Louis University
  • Erik Bucy, Texas Tech University
  • Sun Kyong “Sunny” Lee, University of Oklahoma

12:45 PM Lunch and poster session

  • Josh Braun and Jessica Eklund, University of Massachusetts Amherst “Ad Tech Firms and the Monetization of Fake News”
  • Jacob Nelson, Northwestern University, “Fake News is not the Real Problem”
  • Joshua J. Weikert, Immaculata University, “Misunderstanding the News: Credibility and News Literacy Among Social Media Users”
  • Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Indiana University TBD
  • Julia Kamin, University of Michigan, “Motivations for sharing political information on social media”

1:45 PM Panel 3: Trolling, computer moderation, and algorithms. Panel chair: Michael Schudson, Columbia University

  • Jo Ann Oravec, University of Wisconsin, White Water
  • Nathaniel Matias, MIT
  • Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Indiana University

3:15 Coffee Break

3:30 PM Panel 4: Perspectives on Truth, Knowing, and Communication. Panel chair: Juliet Floyd, Boston University  

  • Alex Couch, MIT
  • Peppino Ortoleva, University of Turin
  • Jacob Groshek, Boston University

5:00 PM Open discussion over appetizers & drinks


Tuesday April 25, 2017

9:00 AM Coffee & registration

9:30 AM Panel 5: Fake news in a historical and contemporary perspective. Panel chair: Michelle Amazeen, Boston University

  • Julien Gorbach, University of Hawaii
  • Emily Vraga/Leticia Bode, George Mason University
  • Martin Glazier, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

11:00 Short break

11:15 PM Panel 6: Global perspectives: similarities and novelties. Panel chair: Michaël Vallee, Consulate of France in Boston

  • Daniel Halpern, Catholic University of Santiago
  • Agnes Veszelszki, Corvinus University of Budapest

12:15 PM Lunch & informal discussion

1:15 PM Keynote Speaker. Session chair: James E. Katz, Boston University

  • Keynote address: Michael Schudson, Columbia University

2:15 PM Short break

2:30 PM Panel 7: What it is meaning of the journalistic search for truth, and how do we move forward in an era of social media? Panel chair: Ellen Cushman, Northeastern University

  • Jennifer Forestal, Stockton University
  • Bruno Patino, Sciences Po
  • Thomas E. Fiedler, Boston University

3:45 Concluding remarks: James E. Katz, Boston University

4:00 PM – 4:45 PM Reception and informal discussion

Symposium Format

  • Brief papers and in-depth discussion, built on research and scholarly perspectives.
  • Advocating political or partisan viewpoints is discouraged.
  • The event will have an in-person audience and also be live-streamed. (Papers and live-stream will be archived on our website.) Please stay tuned for a link to the live-stream.

Sponsored By

  • Andrew R. Lack, Trustee, Boston University
  • Feld Family Professorship in Emerging Media, Division of Emerging Media Studies, College of Communication
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Project on Philosophy of Emerging Computational Technologies: Humans, Values and Society in Transition, Philosophy Department and Division of Emerging Media Studies
  • Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering
  • The Consulate General of France in Boston

International Scientific Advisory Committee

  • Baldwin-Philippi, Jessica (Fordham University, New York)
  • Belair-Gagnon, Valerie (University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, Minneapolis)
  • Boczkowski, Pablo J. (Northwestern University, Evanston)
  • Bouin, Olivier (Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris)
  • Bowen, Shannon (University of South Carolina, Columbia)
  • Braman, Sandra (Texas A&M, College Station)
  • Brossard, Dominique (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison)
  • Coleman, Gabriella (McGill University, Montréal)
  • Cushman, Ellen (Northeastern University, Boston)
  • Floyd, Juliet (Boston University, Boston)
  • Guo, Lei (Boston University, Boston)
  • Haldane, John (St. Andrew’s University, Edinburgh)
  • Halpern, Daniel (La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago)
  • Karpf, David (George Washington University, Washington, DC)
  • Kreiss, Daniel (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
  • Lai, Chih-Hui (National Chiao Tung University, Taipei)
  • Lee, Sun Kyong (University of Oklahoma, Norman)
  • Neff, Gina (Oxford University, Oxford)
  • Nyíri, Kristóf (Budapesti Műszaki és Gazdaságtudományi Egyetem, Budapest)
  • Ortoleva, Peppino (Università degli Studi di Torino, Torino)
  • Papacharissi, Zizi (University of Illinois-Chicago, Chicago)
  • Poiger, Uta (Northeastern University, Boston)
  • Schudson, Michael (Columbia University, New York)
  • Stoellger, Philipp (Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg)
  • Vallee, Michaël (Consulate General of France, Boston)
  • Zanette, Maria Carolina (Universidade de Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo)

*Institutional affiliations are for identification purposes and do not imply endorsement.