Communications in a Post-Truth World

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“Fake news” is a term that started out as a way to describe online content that is intentionally false or inaccurate, but now it is also being used to describe stories that people simply do not like. This newfound level of mistrust surrounding both fake and real stories is making communication more difficult.

As part of the Communications@Syracuse curriculum, online students met in New York City March 31 through April 2 to consider this problem for an immersion focused on “Communications in a Post-Truth World.” The students heard from industry experts, participated in a crisis simulation, and live-tweeted their experience throughout the weekend with the hashtag #CommsImmersion.

Two keynotes highlighted the weekend. In the first, U.S. CEO of global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, Mike Fernandez, provided students with a historical look at fake news. In the second, Dean Emeritus of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, David Rubin, discussed the responsibility of journalists to report the facts and hold democratic governments accountable for their actions.

From Truthiness to Fake News

Mike Fernandez delivers his keynote address in front of Communications@Syracuse students.

Fernandez’s keynote, which was titled “From Truthiness to Fake News,” asserted that fake news has been a problem for centuries. He cited the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism as examples. According to Fernandez, technology has changed the way we communicate and the speed with which stories are shared.

“Change is everywhere and picking up speed. The pace of change will never be slower,” he said.

Fernandez offered three principles for navigating the new world of communication and combating fake news.

  • Prepare: If you know something is coming, there is the potential to turn it into an advantage.
  • Get ahead of the curve: Reinforce that you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Engage: Be true to who you are and what you stand for. Be authentic.

False Facts and the Marketplace of Ideas: Donald Trump is Losing

In the second keynote and final address of the immersion weekend, Rubin advocated for the Fourth Estate and the role of journalists in ensuring the government works to meet the needs of the people.

“The first sign of an anti-democratic government is an attack on the First Amendment, an attack on the press,” he said. “People in the government know it’s only a free and adversarial press that keeps them honest.”

Rubin said that the most alarming day was when the president declared the media the “enemy of the people.” When Trump did that, “he called every graduate of the Newhouse school an enemy of the people.” Rubin tells journalists, in the face of all of this, to just keep reporting the facts.

David Rubin’s keynote address can be viewed in its entirety on Facebook.

Online and In Person

When the students weren’t learning about communications in a post-truth world, they were connecting with classmates they had previously only seen during the live class sessions and documenting their time in New York City on social media.

Michael Lyle tweeted:
Woke up excited for my @SyracuseU conference in New York City! The topic: Communications in a Post-Truth World. #CommsImmersion

Manda Perkins quoted Associate Dean Joel Kaplan in her tweet:
"When you’re spending all your time knocking down fake news when do you have time to do real news?"—Joel Kaplan #CommsImmersion

Jake Bailey quoted Mike Fernandez in his tweet: @B_M CEO .@Cogit8 :
"Communications is about solving problems and providing greater understanding." .@SyracuseComm #CommsImmersion

During Dean Rubin’s keynote address, Mandy Rich tweeted:
In the face of all of this, #journalists need to just keep reporting the facts. -@DavidMarkRubin #commsimmersion

As the immersion ended, Julian Glover tweeted:
What a weekend! Great time at my 2nd @SyracuseComm#CommsImmersion. Very timely topic of 'Communications in a Post-Truth World'—well done!

We compiled additional tweets and Instagram posts from the weekend in Storify, which can be viewed here.

Journalism Matters logo from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University