The *@#%* Media: Pulling Back the Curtain on Fake News

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 21, 2021 - July 21, 20216/21 - 7/214 WeeksOnlineCancelledOnlineJonathan Ebinger

Course Description

In this asynchronous online class an Emmy Award-winning journalist will provide you with the tools to enhance your ability to ask and answer these critical questions. Over our four weeks together, we will work toward developing a formula for how the media can work to regain public trust and faith during this trying phase in American history. At the same time, we will be learning how we can become skillful and accurate fact-checkers, as well as educated and insightful news consumers and sharers. The primary objective of this course will be to provide students with a framework for defining accuracy in the media, and for distinguishing between truthful and (ahem) less than truthful reports in the media. Democracy depends on both the public trust and media truthfulness in presenting news. With this class, you will be able to better asses the cultural and political impact we have seen when misinformation forges extremist views and actions. And, you will be at the forefront of efforts by journalists and educators to get us moving and thinking and assessing what we see, hear and read.

Just about everywhere we turn—from the classroom to Netflix to politics to social media—people find ways to bring up the validity of the media and push back against news reported by respected media organizations. For us, this leads to the following question: What is fake news? Is it the same as disinformation? Is all of this something new? How can we tell what is “fake” and what is real? Can we figure this out ourselves, without having to go through the media filter? Can we become informed news consumers, able to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from falsehood, and reality from Tweets and certain posts? Well, that’s a lot, but what do you think? It’s your opinion that matters. Guess what? Together, this class will help us work this out. Each week within each module you will review a brief video note from your instructor, and then dig into selected readings, news videos, sampled seminars, along with time for peer discussions with classmates. Each week's module will engage these pillars as we set out to study our topic, and then advance towards offering suggestions and solutions for ourselves, and our communities.

By the end of this fast-paced four-week course students should be able to: •Distinguish between legitimate news coverage and that which is not •Understand the difference between fact and truth •Document how to fact-check a story, or a news source, for validity •View mainstream media to determine whether it has a future •Challenge the ingredients in a mainstream news story •Critically deconstruct front-page stories, push notifications, and alerts •Independently assess the viability of a story to command attention from the general public, not just people hyper-focused on news •Examine the viability of social media while charting its future •Critique even respected officials or popular artists and their use of social media •Assess the role of social media and whether big tech is a problem We will see how purveyors of disinformation have successfully injected bias into the mainstream media and into your best friend’s Instagram account. Finally, we will examine essays on media, cultural trends, and forecasts for the media future.

Prerequisites: Students planning for this class should bring an interest in news and current events, a desire to explore the role of media in society, a willingness to challenge existing assumptions, and a very healthy skepticism. The future is about you, and how you can distinguish what is real, from what is not.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEMS0918

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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