WASHINGTON (6/1/18) — The Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland explored assaults on truth and the future of facts during a recent program at The Phillips Collection.

The alliance, directed by Philip Merrill College of Journalism Associate Professor Ira Chinoy (Ph.D. ’10), organized a panel discussion with Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, College of Information Studies Professor Jen Golbeck and University of Washington Assistant Professor Jevin West. Dan Russell, Google’s director of user happiness, was the moderator.

A full video of the 90-minute program, “The Future of Facts in a ‘Post-Truth’ World,” was published on the alliance’s website this week.

“In the world in which we all grew up, getting together to talk about the future of facts would have seemed preposterous. And talking about the future of facts in a ‘post-truth’ world? Even more preposterous,” Chinoy said in his opening remarks. “And yet, here we all are.”

Each panelist presented a research question — what could universities study that could help us better understand this problem? — and explained what their own research shows about the present and future of facts.

Sullivan, The Post‘s media columnist, said her reporting shows a lack of public trust in the news media as a whole — but people often do trust the news sources they read, watch and listen to.

“There’s sort of ‘the media,’ and there’s sort of ‘my media,'” Sullivan said. “And there’s a big, big difference there.”

Sullivan said it’s worth studying ways to save local journalism.

Golbeck, a computer scientist, said human “trolls” and “bots” on social media are part of “a massive infrastructure deployed against truth” and it’s worth studying ways to damage that infrastructure by adjusting “the interfaces of social media to make these things spread more poorly.”

West, a data scientist, said some things that appear factual — statistics — can also be used to misinform.

“You should question numbers the same way you question your car salesman,” West said. That means it’s worth studying how “big data” has changed our definition of the truth, he said.

During the panel discussion, the trio agreed that repairing the local news business model and promoting rigorous news literacy and civics education are critical to the future of facts and the truth. Golbeck added that tougher data privacy laws might be necessary.

Lucy A. Dalglish, dean of the Merrill College, said the conversation was important — and that a 57 percent increase in the college’s incoming freshman class showed her that the public cares about truth.

“People really do care about the future of facts,” Dalglish said. “I am very, very convinced of that.”

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles