UChicago’s Chris Kennedy on the role of truth in the social media age
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UChicago’s Chris Kennedy on the role of truth in the social media age


People have been lying and people have been
BS-ing as long as they’ve been talking. The topic of my class is truth, with the particular
focus on the role truth plays in meaning and communication. If we think about non-truth then, the simple
definition would be it’s a statement that fails to correspond with the facts. But that alone doesn’t really draw all the
kind of distinctions you might want to draw if you think about why non-truths might be
uttered. The primary focus of the class I’m teaching
right now is technically known as BS. It’s a label that was introduced by the
philosopher Harry Frankfurt, and he characterizes BS as an individual who presents some piece
of information, a claim, as being true. But they do it without any regard whatsoever
as to whether what they’re saying is actually true or false. I think we could all imagine going back through
history and finding cases of great BS-ers, or great liars. Think of the era of yellow journalism. There’s a mechanism for producing more BS
and more lies, or more truth for that matter, and presenting it to more people more frequently
than ever before, and this is the case of social media. I’m hoping that some of the students in
the class I’m teaching now will get excited about the idea of looking at the role of social
media in attitudes towards lying, fake news, etc., right now, and whether that is playing
a big role and why there seems to be such renewed attention, such concern about it. They are probably figuring out the norms for
using a lot of this media, and maybe they’re the ones that will figure out how to manage
BS in the Twitter Age. So that’s, again, that’s the reason for
doing the class.

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