This practicum is conducted at the request of a major foundation, which, among other things, is focused on the apparent dysfunctionality of the American political system. The research team will work closely with this client to assess the current so-called “fake news” phenomenon, with the goal of producing recommendations to guide the foundation on funding priorities that would counter the problem.
The practicum will explore the “fake news” issue from the point of view of its prevalence, its origins, its consequences, and the need possibly to rebrand or more narrowly define the issue given the frenzy surrounding the use of the term “fake news” in many quarters. The scope of the problem will then be examined in various contexts including social media, traditional media and print, and political advertising, among others. An important aspect of this research will consider the behavioral science that has examined the efficacy of trying to intervene in how people form their opinions. The research will also examine the dangers of over-reacting to the problem in counter-productive ways. Finally, and most importantly, the practicum teams will advise the client on possible solutions, including, subject to student interest and the client’s preferences:
- governmental regulation and litigation,
- engagement with traditional media and print to promote more resistance to “fake news”,
- self-regulation by social media outlets,
- supporting mechanisms to get truthful information to those whose information sources make them more vulnerable to “fake news”,
- support for independent watchdog or rating mechanisms to put pressure on those disseminating “fake news”,
- civic education initiatives.
The practicum seeks to assemble a research team with complementary skills drawn from law, public policy, social science, psychology, communications, journalism, and computer science. Students from these fields are encouraged to apply. Students will work either individually or in small groups on different aspects of the problem. The instructor will hold weekly meetings with the entire group and additional individual and, as needed, small group meetings at regularly scheduled times. Students will produce research memos to be incorporated into a final report and oral briefing for the client at the conclusion of the Spring Quarter.
After the term begins, and with the consent of the instructor, students accepted into the course may transfer from Section 01 (2 units) to Section 2 (3 units), which meets the R requirement.