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POLISCI 235C: Misinformation and Democracy: Past and Present (POLISCI 335C)

Many today consider misinformation to be one of the most significant challenges faced by democratic societies. Some see this as a new phenomenon, arguing, for example, that modern technology - and, above all, social media giants like Facebook or Twitter - is responsible for this threat. Yet, the problem of misinformation and the challenges posed by 'fake-news,' conspiracy theories, and lying in politics have a long history. In this course, we will ask whether and how misinformation threatens democracy and explore different potential solutions to this challenge. We will read various historical texts suggesting that misinformation is not a new phenomenon born in our digital age. We will learn about various past experiences of misinformation, such as discussions of the permissibility of lying in politics in antiquity, rumors about the end of the world in the Renaissance, and early modern debates about censorship and freedom of speech. We will see how several key figures in the history of more »
Many today consider misinformation to be one of the most significant challenges faced by democratic societies. Some see this as a new phenomenon, arguing, for example, that modern technology - and, above all, social media giants like Facebook or Twitter - is responsible for this threat. Yet, the problem of misinformation and the challenges posed by 'fake-news,' conspiracy theories, and lying in politics have a long history. In this course, we will ask whether and how misinformation threatens democracy and explore different potential solutions to this challenge. We will read various historical texts suggesting that misinformation is not a new phenomenon born in our digital age. We will learn about various past experiences of misinformation, such as discussions of the permissibility of lying in politics in antiquity, rumors about the end of the world in the Renaissance, and early modern debates about censorship and freedom of speech. We will see how several key figures in the history of political thought - from Plato and Aristotle to Hobbes and Mill - sought to deal with these problems. Combining close readings of historical texts and discussions of contemporary issues, we will ask whether and how we might be able to utilize historical knowledge and experience to understand and address some of the most pressing challenges we face today.
Terms: Spr | Units: 5
Instructors: Schwartz, A. (PI)
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