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McCain Institute, Cronkite School launch task force to tackle disinformation threats

The task force intends to publish its findings and research to combat disinformation in the media


Students cross the street outside of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication building at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.

The McCain Institute at ASU announced earlier this month it is creating a task force alongside the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to fight disinformation in the media landscape.

The task force on Defeating Disinformation Attacks on U.S. Democracy will be made up of experts on disinformation, members of the media and policymakers. They will meet throughout the rest of 2023 with hopes of finding and publishing solutions for the ongoing threat of disinformation in the media. 

Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute, and Susan Goldberg, former vice dean and professor of practice at the Cronkite School and the College of Global Futures, started the task force in response to rampant disinformation campaigns throughout the U.S. political landscape.

"We put together the smartest people we could find, who have already been working for a long time on disinformation, and get them to come up with a list of recommendations within about a year," Farkas said.

Members of the task force plan on using resources and experts that the Cronkite School has at its disposal.

"There's no editorial board on social media sites to warn citizens (about) what is true and what is false and where the facts support one argument and where they don't," Farkas said. "It's dangerous, because the people who want power can exploit this."

Hazel Kwon, assistant professor at the Cronkite School and a member of the task force is especially concerned about the threat disinformation poses towards information systems.

"A growing portion of civil society began to be skeptical about whether information infrastructure is a pillar of our society; that skepticism is a real danger," Kwon said. "It’s a real danger to the nation, and the United States as a country. So to me, tackling disinformation is really about regaining trust in our information systems."

Jim Ludes, executive director of the Pell Center and vice president for strategic initiatives at Salve Regina University is also on the task force. Members like Ludes were concerned about the threats to democracy prevalent in Arizona. 

"Arizona has been a battleground state, in the political sense, for a couple of election cycles," Ludes said. "With that comes a certain amount of mischief where people will just make stuff up to see if it produces political (controversy)."

More than a dozen residents of Arizona have been arrested and charged in connection to the Jan 6. insurrection at the U.S. Capitol just over two years ago. The issue of disinformation is far from resolved, as Arizona continued to be a breeding ground for it during and after the 2022 midterm elections.

"There are consistent efforts to spread disinformation," Ludes said. "The danger is that it rips apart the fabric of the American nation if we begin to get to just be consumed by that fraudulent information that's being used to drive wedges between Americans, that's a dangerous moment for the health of the American Federation that we all depend on."

Edited by Shane Brennan, Jasmine Kabiri and Caera Learmonth.

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Rishab ChattyPolitics Reporter

Rishab is a Politics Reporter at the State Press and a junior studying Political Science. He is also an assistant director with the Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention and an assistant editor for the Realist Review.

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