In our first unit, you got some experience practicing basic web literacies via fact-checking, researching sites like Snopes, Politifact, and Wikipedia; going upstream for original source material, and assessing credibility by reading sources laterally. Such strategies empower you as a user as you are better able to sort valid information from fake news, a term that has many different definitions that can be assessed by its intent, types, and features (as we found out from Part I of Data & Society’s “Dead Reckoning” report).
However, as we explored various lenses of post-truth in the second unit, you recognized that although the web literacies from the first unit are important, they are only one small way of dealing with the broader, structural problems that have led us to this moment in history. While you may be more aware or even critical of demagogic tactics, clickbait, conspiracy theories, confirmation bias, and algorithms, the scale of these forces still make you affected by them.
Many of you have asked: what can be done?
In Part II of Data & Society’s “Dead Reckoning” report, the authors describe four strategies of intervention currently explored by governments, institutions, engineers, tech companies, watchdogs, journalists, and users; they end by emphasizing what’s at stake in mitigating fake news:
“Fake news” as a keyword in public discourse offers a proxy view of global techno-politics, where different values guide beliefs about what content should be moderated, who should be responsible, how moderation should be applied to different groups, and what kinds of mental and physical harms are tolerated. “Fake news” is more than a widening of partisanship and the misleading use of social media to spread disinformation; it’s about the social sharing of trust, credibility, and evidence in the making of an informed citizenry.—Conclusion of “Dead Reckoning,” page 27
Thus, while post-truth articulates the general conditions of our current crises in politics and public rhetoric, fake news is an important concept for writers as it articulates some of the deep challenges we face when it comes to reading, communicating, and mediating reality.
What can be done? Strategies and counter-technologies
Importantly, this unit asks you to move past cynical skepticism (“the web is useless!”) to a more proactive, agentive stance. In other words, we need to create and we need to take action. Hence, this final unit asks you to work with a team of peers in order to take a deeper dive into one of the strategies stakeholders have developed to deal with the production and spread of fake news, looking into their successes and challenges, and ultimately making an argument for what we can or should do in the future.
For your final project, then, you will work with a team to explore and update a specific strategy of intervention.
Your team will account for its definition chief actors, and challenges by conducting research. Then, to help us understand, your group will select media about it to share with the class, and lead us in a large-group discussion. Because some of these forces threaten the foundations of our democracy, our discussions risk becoming a bit depressing; as such, a significant and essential part of your time will also be spent teaching us about one effective counter-technology — a tool, practice, process, or resource that can help writers and researchers resist, expose, or otherwise mitigate these forces.
Specify and update the strategy. What is the strategy and what issue, thing, force, etc. is it responding to (especially think of Unit 2)? How is it currently showing up in the news?
Research it. Find media that help you better understand this phenomenon historically and currently. Start with Wikipedia and work your way to news and features, podcasts and videos, then perhaps to books and scholarship. As you collect readings, develop a bibliography, using a bib manager like Mendeley or Zotero groups that you can share with us. In the end I want you to draw from sources that:
-share a historical perspective
-share a theoretical perspective
-provide recent in-depth coverage of the issue/strategy (last 3-6 months)
-come in a range of forms: articles, videos, podcasts, books
Blog about your process. You’ll create a dedicated site on WordPress for this project and I want your team to publish 3-4 blog posts (ideally one by each group member), sharing your research process. Within those posts, I expect to see a mix of summary, analysis, hypotheses, and synthesis that provides a narrative about the strategy. In short, tell us what you’re finding and aim for these posts to be spread out among the last few weeks and conversational in tone.
Pick 2 sources to share with the class. One source will be a reading you will assign them for homework and another will be a short podcast or video (or clips) you’ll play in class the day of your discussion. Your reading should be less than 4,000 words (not sure what the word count is? check out the Word Count Tool or the Word Counter Plus Chrome Extension) and will ideally get at the complexity, history, and newsworthiness of the phenomena.
Post your sources and lesson plan on your WordPress site. Once your group has organized a plan, you’ll add one final post to your site. This post will include your panel title, questions, links to your sources, and info about your counter-technology.
Lead discussion in class. You’ll share your media (10 minutes max) and come prepared with some questions. The discussion then should be about 30-40 minutes long. The entire time you should plan on using is 55-65 minutes.
Present a counter-technology. You can do this any number of ways — through a step-by-step tutorial, a demo, or a workshop. It’s up to you. Ultimately, however, we should have a deliverable (app, pdf, video, WordPress post, etc.) that we can use. Above all, be clear about how this technology helps us! Plan on 15-20 minutes.
After discussion, reflect on the entire process on a Google Doc that you’ll submit to your WRT folder. More on this in class.
Your final grade will be based on the following:
WordPress site [20 points]
Your group will be evaluated by me on the design, completeness, and navigability of your dedicated WordPress site.
Panel discussion [50 points]
Your group will be evaluated by the class using a Google Form, which will assess the degree to which your panel was interesting, detailed, and organized and how valuable the class found your counter-technology.
Individual contribution [30 points]
You will be assessed by your collaborators through an Internal Assessment Form that will be based on how much you contributed to the group’s successes and failures. You will also be graded by me based on your final reflection.