New ISU Center for Civic Engagement Fellowship Program Aims to Combat ‘Truth Degradation’
A longtime communications professor is one of the recipients of a new scholarship sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement at Illinois State University.
According to a statement from the ISU School of Communication, Joseph Zompetti was chosen “due to his long commitment to civic engagement and his recent academic activities involving Russian fake news and disinformation tactics across the world.” world”.
Zompetti will continue this research alongside his colleagues both nationally and in the Republic of Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. He will also be responsible for designing curricula and helping “faculty and staff integrate civic and digital literacy into campus courses and programs.”
These are the technical details.
In the abstract, the scholarship will allow Zompetti to continue doing what he believes to be his calling and his means of helping to preserve democratic ideals.
“A long time ago I was struggling, full of angst and depression and worried about the future of society, all the social issues, etc.,” he said in a recent interview for Sound Ideas from WGLT. “The question I think we can all ask ourselves is… ‘What can I do, in my life, to make the world a little better? “And my skills are, I believe, that I can teach.”
Zompetti’s training includes both the disciplines of political science and communications, both of which contributed to the formation of the course he developed in 2014, Controversy in Contemporary Society.
“I start from the principle that I think democracy is worth fighting for,” he said. “And I don’t care if my students are Democrats, Republicans, Communists, or die-hard capitalists. What matters to me is how they think and how they come to that conclusion. And ultimately, I think that’s what that will preserve our democracy and maintain the freedoms we enjoy.”
Zompetti explained in his Sound Ideas interview:
WGLT: So do you see ruling classes focused on communication and controversy, on bridging political divides and on acknowledging disinformation as your own contribution to preserving democracy?
Zompetti: I hope so. I had the chance to travel to 60 countries around the world. The reason I say this is not to be happy about it, but rather to say, you know, even the places I go are amazing – I always come home and really appreciate the things that we we have here in the United States, some of the rights we have and some of the things we can do now. Maybe there’s a better way to govern, maybe there’s a better way to have a society — I don’t know, but at least right now, in human history, I think it’s the best we have. And if that’s true, then it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth doing something to preserve, it’s worth trying to maintain and trying to improve.
WGLT: Can you tell me a bit about what you hope to accomplish with this scholarship?
Zompetti: One is to pursue a line of research that I’m doing that I could then share with the community on campus and beyond – we could do Zoom talks or invite community members – to basically showcase some of the work that I do in a way that the (Center for Civic Engagement) could facilitate.
The second thing is to develop either classroom lectures or workshops of some sort, which could then also be organised: so if a professor of biology or any subject wishes to have a conversation with his students about the disinformation, he can invite me or someone who uses the material I prepare to come to his class and give a 20-minute presentation or, or even complete a complete dossier on disinformation that relates specifically to his field. I’m going to work with an undergraduate student who also received a grant from the Center to develop what I call a sort of modular framework. We have ideas and basics: what is misinformation? How is misinformation happening? What are some of the indicators we can look for to spot misinformation? What are the ways to overcome this information? And then if a particular faculty member in biology, or math or somewhere wants us to come in, then we can tailor it specifically to their field and go to their class.
WGLT: In terms of research, do you have any idea what you hope to uncover by doing more research on misinformation, or what you hope to share from it?
Zompetti: What I hope to do is… come up with concrete suggestions for people on how we can identify and avoid misinformation. How can we become more literate and proficient in our consumption of information and news? There are certainly a lot of books and a lot of courses that are taught on things like media literacy, so I don’t want to reinvent the wheel in that regard. But I hope that because the disinformation strategies invoked by countries like Russia, China, even the United States, are constantly changing… then the culprit must find new ways to instill disinformation. I’m partly curious how it works and what can we do to avoid being fooled by it. How can we better equip ourselves to be well-informed so that we are not victimized or fall prey to disinformation campaigns? And while we can’t always predict what’s going to happen in the future, what we can do is look at general trends and patterns to see what’s happened in the past and what’s happening now. Then, hopefully, we will learn from it so that we can be more informed consumers of media.