3 October 2018

Christina Farhart
Christina Farhart

Course: Misinformation, Political Rumors, and Conspiracy Theories

Instructor: Christina Farhart, assistant professor of political science

Term: fall 2018

Description: How much of Misinformation, Political Rumors, and Conspiracy Theories is about the 2016 U.S. presidential election? Not as much as you might think. Misinformation, disinformation, and political propaganda have been around for a long time, says Farhart, who began her second year at Carleton this fall. Her research follows two paths: political participation—why and how people engage in or disengage from the process—and impact—the consequences of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and political rumors.

Objective: The class integrates psychology, sociology, history, journalism, and mass communication studies. Farhart sets the table early with historical framework. “Politicians have used propaganda forever. They used it during wartime in both world wars,” she says. “In class we talk about the ebb and flow of conspiracy theories. Those out of power tend to create conspiracy theories around those in power as a way to deal with political losses.”

Expectation: Research reveals that some people, even if they’re paid to give the correct answers about a political topic, will choose to give inaccurate ones that are aligned with partisan objectives. “That’s mind-boggling, right?” says Farhart. “But it’s what we’re motivated to do. We talk in class about echo chambers. How do we create our own echo chambers? How do we evaluate the information that we interact with?”

Reflection: “I want students to understand the contemporary political environment. But more than anything, I hope they walk away with a sense that this has happened before. Maybe not always in the same way, but there’s a framework for understanding why fake news, propaganda, and misinformation can be an appealing path,” Farhart says. “This isn’t something we just want academics to think about, either. We all need to think about our responsibilities as citizens and consumers of information.”

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