The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life hosted a seminar on October 18 entitled “Misinformation, Fake News, and the Assault on the Truth.” At the event, business journalist and media executive Eric Schurenberg spoke to the community about the growing dangers of misinformation and disinformation in today’s media.
The event was jointly sponsored by the Department of Political Science, Civic Education Program, Tufts CIVIC, Tufts Democrats and Tufts Republicans.
Schurenberg was formerly CEO of Mansueto Ventures, a company that publishes media brands Inc. and Fast Company. He is currently the presenter of The Human Factor” Podcast and co-host of the “In Reality” podcast, and is also the former Editor-in-Chief of Money and Founding Editor of CBS’s MoneyWatch.com.
Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tisch College, first asked about Schurenberg’s career path.
“The pivot off [being the president and CEO at Inc. and Fast Company] was encouraged by … a panel on entrepreneurship,” said Schurenberg. “A woman came up to me from the audience … she said, ‘Why do you journalists always lie?'”
Schurenberg said he realized trust in the media was at an all-time low.
“She believed that not only did I and my colleagues and everyone in my profession fail to distinguish truth from falsehood, but that we were actively creating falsehoods,” Schurenberg said.
He noted that the event that ultimately propelled him into his fight against misinformation was the January 6 riot.
“I believe … that the people who stormed the Capitol, most of them sincerely believed that they were acting in the name of democracy,” Schurenberg said. “The reason they believed that so sincerely was because they had been fed a series of lies that were reinforced by… a very clever disinformation campaign, some of which originated abroad and some of which were reinforced by people in the United States became.”
Horowitz then asked Schurenberg why and how misinformation and disinformation is being spread.
“The lifecycle of media manipulation…usually begins with intentional falsehood,” Schurenberg said. “The reasoning behind it can be ideology, it can be national propaganda… the cycle usually starts with these planners deciding what [falsehoods] would be beneficial to plant … in remote corners of the internet.”
Schurenberg then explained how this disinformation becomes misinformation that has a greater impact on people’s beliefs.
“[These falsehoods leap] into the bloodstream of the mainstream ecosystem when someone with more followers than common sense picks it up and spreads it,” Schurenberg said. “At that point, it goes from disinformation to misinformation.”
Schurenberg claimed that critical thinking is a core process of information surveillance.
“[We need] to ask ourselves, “What is the source of this? do i believe that What would it take to disprove that?’” Schurenberg said. “Part of fighting misinformation is simply getting better at yourself.”
Schurenberg explained that moderation and regulation are also necessary to suppress misinformation.
“[We] needs to get all social media platforms and every media company — or even… single big influencers — to play by the rules,” Schurenberg said. “When you have so many followers, you just have to act more responsibly.”
Schurenberg then outlined a possible solution presented to him by one of his podcast guests. He stated that social norms and civic moderation should also take place on social media, just as individual autonomy and privacy are respected in real-life public spaces.
“[Social media platforms] are public spaces [and] They should be treated like public spaces in the three-dimensional world,” Schurenberg said. “If you were walking down any of the sidewalks on Boston Common, you wouldn’t come across a horde of people who didn’t know you but heard something you said, who are following you and swearing at you and swearing at you and trying to take your to destroy reputation.”
When asked whether people should be optimistic about the future fight against misinformation and disinformation, Schurenberg expressed his confidence in society.
“Of course I’m optimistic,” said Schurenburg. “I’m impressed by the quality and quantity of people who are now … recognizing this problem.”
Although misinformation and disinformation are on the rise today, Schurenberg believes the truth cannot be hidden.
“Truth has an enormous advantage in the battle of ideas,” said Schurenberg. “Truth works…no matter how clever the liar, no matter how infinitely complex the web of untruths, he can never make it big enough to counteract the immensity of the facts.”
Schurenberg closed the event with a call to action to the group of professors and undergraduate and graduate students present.
“Eventually the lies about the 2020 election will collapse,” Schurenberg said. “We should be participants in the breakdown, and we do that by examining ourselves … about our own prejudices.”