Truth (and Lies) in Our Time Schedule

Thursday, March 11, 7:00 p.m.   


David McCraw, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, The New York Times
Title: Lies and Liberty: The Future of Free Speech in a Divided America 

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 990963

Nine years ago, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Xavier Alvarez, who had been convicted of lying about winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. The court portrayed the federal statute that banned lying about military honors as Orwellian: “Our constitutional tradition stands against the idea that we need Oceania’s Ministry of Truth.” Since then, much has changed. The libertarian paradigm underlying the decision—that the remedy for false speech is more speech—has come under attack from both the left and the right, a president routinely denounced the mainstream media as “fake news,” and major digital platforms have faced criticism over their failure to curb toxic speech online.

There is no question that our information ecosystem is in crisis. But abandoning classic libertarianism may be less a solution and more a swapping of one problem for another. As easy as it is to doubt the capacity of the American public to be effective truth-seekers, as much as we need to continually reassess the limits of press freedom and to critique the performance of our media institutions, we would do well to be skeptical of the idea that we can discover a sort of benevolent regulation of speech and the press. The libertarian model may yet prove to provide the basis for a healthier information ecosystem. 


Friday, March 12, 7:00 p.m.


Jeffrey Hancock, Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication, Stanford University 
Title: The Shifting Tides of Trust and Truth

Moderator: Benjamin Haber, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 296980

The trust bias, that we tend to believe other people, is one of the fundamental findings in deception detection research, and forms a foundation of our trust in one another. Our worries about fake news over the last several years may be influencing that truth bias, potentially increasing our ability to detect fake news but also, worryingly, undermining our trust in news that is real. This talk will provide a brief primer on deception detection, review some of the latest work on the prevalence of fake news, and argue that more targeted interventions than societal-level moral panic may be a more effective approach for moving past the disinformation crisis.


Friday, March 12, 8:00 p.m.


Mitali Thakor, Assistant Professor of Science in Society, Wesleyan University
Title: Deep Fakes in the Age of Misinformation  

Moderator: Sebastian Zimmeck, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Wesleyan University

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 974207

“Deep fakes” are manipulated videos generated with artificial intelligence. Panic over deep fakes has focused on deep fake porn, as well as altered propaganda of politicians and journalists, prompting cries for social media platforms to take action and resulting in multimillion-dollar investigative responses from defense agencies and technology companies. In a virtual arms race against deep fakes, new investigative efforts generate a networked infrastructure of moderators and algorithms designed to detect and delete fake videos. At the same time, much of the paranoia over deep fakes is overblown. In this talk, I situate deep fakes within current anxieties over fake news and disinformation, and problematize the calls for online platforms to take responsibility for content moderation of fake media.  


Saturday, March 13, 11:00 a.m.    


Dani Shapiro P'22, nonfiction writer and author of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Title: Family Secrets

Moderator: Laura Grabel, Professor of Biology, Emerita, Wesleyan University

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 148898

What makes a person a person? What combination of heredity and environment, nature and nurture shapes our lives and forms our identity? After a lifetime spent writing fiction and memoir about the corrosive power of secrets within families, Dani Shapiro stumbled upon a massive family secret of her own: her beloved father was not her father. As she writes in Inheritance, “I always knew there was a secret. What I didn’t know: the secret was me.” This lecture delves into Shapiro’s own detective story as she discovers a radically different truth than the one she had known, and shines a spotlight on the complex ethical ramifications of this moment in history, during which science and technology have outpaced the human heart's capacity to contend with what we may discover.



Agustín Fuentes, Princeton University 
Title: Race is not the risk factor, racism is: fabrication, ignorance and malicious intent in the “myth of race” in the contemporary USA 

Moderator: Anthony Ryan Hatch, Associate Professor of Science in Society, Wesleyan University

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 023037

Racism and the misrepresentation of human biology are harmful to all of us. The data are undeniably clear: race is not from biology, but racism has biological, psychological and societal impacts. The landscape of COVID-19 and the resurgence of overt white supremacy have laid bare the dangers and harm of the lies about race and racism. Countering intentional ignorance and a history of deceit by busting the “myth of race” is necessary. In this discussion I lay out what we know about human biological variation, race, and the biosocial violence of contemporary racism. 


Saturday, March 13, 1:00 p.m.   


Andrew Bleeker ‘07, President and Founder, Bully Pulpit Interactive
Title: The Two 2020 Elections

Moderator: Marc Eisner, Professor of Government, Wesleyan University

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 428859

The 2020 presidential election was the most covered election in American history, with the highest turnout as well. Every second was recorded, televised, and tweeted. Yet, our perceptions of truth reveal that two very different elections took place. Americans still share critical fundamental values. But even when armed with more access to news and the candidates than ever before, supporters of the competing parties experienced the election vastly differently. On topics ranging from basic facts to how they voted, and even who they believe won, America was divided. And while the election may be behind us, these divisions remain. How we understand and learn from what happened will determine how we move forward and whether it can be done together. From Bleeker’s perspective leading the disinformation response effort for the Biden-Harris campaign, we will explore what voters believed, why, and what can be done.


Saturday, March 13, 2:15 p.m.   

Plenary Session 

This year’s Shasha seminar will conclude with an exciting plenary session in which all presenters will gather to summarize key learnings and direct them toward future action. We encourage audience attendance and participation, and look forward to this discussion of truth and lies in our time.

Zoom Access:
Passcode: 800674