Fake news a dark menace to truth, democracy and discourse
Modern society is in the midst of a "crisis of truth" with 'fake news' rampant on social media and going unquestioned, a conference was told.
The symposium on 'Factions, Fears and Fake News' organised by Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute and New York's Columbia University last week heard that we are now living in a "post-truth" world.
Professor Todd Gitlin, of Columbia University, said fake news, disinformation, and panic-driven assaults on evidence and logic are all embedded in the tradition of the Counter-Enlightenment.
However, he added that "what used to be carried from village to village as rumour...now flies around the world at the click of a keyboard".
Professor Darryl Jones, of Trinity College Dublin, said: "We are witnessing the coarsening of political discourse I would have hardly believed possible a decade ago."
He said in this time of fake news, President Donald Trump could insist "again and again the crowd for his inauguration was the biggest ever".
He also referred to the creation of "safe spaces" within universities and warned this was stifling debate.
"Of course, universities much be safe spaces if by that we should afford all members of our community protection from bullies and sexual harassment... While not perfect, universities are quite good at this. But not safety from exposure to new ideas. We will be betraying the future by giving our students no political or intellectual tools to mount their own resistance to these dark times," he added.
Dr Fainche Ryan, assistant professor in the Loyola Institute at Trinity, said: "Truth matters for the good of the individual and the good of society."
Stephen Rae, Editor-in- Chief of Independent News and Media - who moderated the Post Truth debate - said even before the Brexit referendum and the election of Trump in the US, lies and mud-slinging were being spread on social media sites such as Facebook.
In this post-truth era, there was an "entire machine of misinformation" readily available and targeting willing listeners, he added.
"Fake news is eroding democratic institutions and scientific facts are now being openly questioned - like smoking and the connection with certain types of cancer and climate change. Facebook has no checks and balances on its content," he warned.