“Gimme some Truth”

If you don’t know the song on which this section of our seminar is based, listen HERE

We will consider diverse ways in which one can fight for the truth.  However, we also encounter an age-old paradox.  To defend the truth, someone must play the role of the defender.  But who is to say that this individual, political regime, or–yes–internet corporation is equipped to act as the arbiter of truth.  Indeed, what is to prevent them from putting their own interests above the principles they claim to defend?

19. Tuesday, April 13: Tools and techniques for distinguishing fact from fiction, lies, disinformation, and bizarro conspiracies

Today, I would like to address the issue of fact-checking in an era of Post-Truth and conspiracy theories.

Your suggested tools for correcting disinformation and lies on social media are on the link to the right side of this page

20. Thursday, April 15:  Allowing others to take responsibility for defending the Truth

What role should the leaders of global communications networks play in defending the Truth? In this section, we will reflect on two themes: the policies of digital giants and their potential political and social implications

I. Before January 6, 2021, the heads of Google, Twitter, and Facebook responded to the challenge of controlling digital content in provocatively different ways. Which approach would you choose?

Please read the following articles. There are a lot of them but they are short.

Compare and contrast these short articles from 2019 and after January 6, 2021:

Before the Presidential election:

Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac, “Defiant Zuckerberg says Facebook won’t police free speech”  PRINT AND READ

Kate Conger, “Twitter will ban all political ads, CEO Jack Dorsey says” PRINT AND READ

And after January 6, 2021:

Twitter pulls the plug on Trump: TWEET

But, Facebook isn’t so sure: HERE

For inspiration read this article: Emma O’Connor, “America just experienced a coup, but it wasn’t by Trump,” Revolver HERE

II. How comfortable should we feel about putting the task of discerning the Truth into the hands of global communications corporations?  This is a good occasion to meditate on Fahrenheit 451.

Amnesty International Report, Surveillance Giants READ pp. 5-11 and skim the rest

Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post, August 19, 2016, “98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you”  READ  If politics is about power, this is a lot of power!

Could these data points be 98 good reasons for shutting down your Facebook account?

See this journal abstract confirming that computers can know you better than anyone else READ SUMMARY HERE



21. Tuesday, April 20:  The Second Great Debate!

Topic: “The Facebook Oversight Committee should definitely uphold the ban on Donald Trump in the name of protecting American democracy.”

For relevant articles (all short), see the following:

Facebook decision after January 6, 2020: READ

Facebook “Community Standards” HERE

An Impending Decision:  READ

Contrasting arguments: 




And this is frustrating for people who actually need to decide one way or the other.  It’s hard, but sometimes in life, you just have to choose  READ


Your second essay assignment is HERE


22. Thursday, April 22: Public Engagement in Defense of Truth

I have decided that we won’t meet for class today.  However, please feel free to read all of these articles.  I may assign some of them for one of our future classes.


Can participatory democracy provide the solution to safeguarding the Truth? Is Truth-seeking from the ground up possible?

In this session, consider the unique croudsourced experiment in Truth-telling called Wikipedia.  Also, please remind me to tell you what it’s like to be banned by Wikipedia.

What standards does the participatory encyclopedia, Wikipedia, employ to determine “what’s fit to print”? How are these standards upheld?  Please choose the most controversial political issue you can think of (e.g., the Arab-Israel conflict) and attempt to determine whether Wikipedia’s respective site lives up to its pretensions “to  provide a neutrally written summary of existing mainstream knowledge in a fair and accurate manner with a straightforward, “‘just-the-facts style.’”  If your site meets these standards, see if you can find one that doesn’t.

Sophia Rosenfeld, Democracy and Truth A Short History, pp. 73-91.

Wikipedia’s Mission Statement READ AND PRINT

Alex Pasternack, “How Wikipedia’s volunteers became the web’s best weapon against misinformation” PRINT AND READ

Richard Cooke, “Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet” READ

To pique your curiosity, see if you can figure out why certain Wikipedia sites ranked among the 5000 most accessed pages over the past week.  The page is regularly updated. I was fascinated by both the topics and their rankings HERE

In this post (from January 27, 2021), Aaron Hernandez was the most accessed person (I have no idea why). Betty White (76) beat Donald Trump (77), but came in behind Jimmy Hoffa (69). I gave up looking for Biden.