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Media Community Unites Against Disinformation at the Allen H. Center Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations

Published on May 18, 2020, at 9:52 a.m.
by Alexis Hopper and Jillian Kopp, Guest Contributors.

The media industry is suffering from public distrust. The driving force: disinformation. According to the Plank Center Communication Monitor, “More than 20% of surveyed professionals indicated that their organization and reputation were affected by fake news at least one time.” With today’s media climate surrounding COVID-19 and the upcoming election, disinformation is even more prevalent.

On March 10, journalists, students and public relations practitioners joined together for the third annual Allen H. Center Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations hosted by the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations. Attendees participated in several activities related to disinformation and taking action to combat it.

The Center Lecture is a lecture series in honor of Allen Center’s long-lasting legacy in public relations. Past speakers include Glen M. Broom, the namesake of the Broom Center, and Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations.

This year’s keynote speaker, retired two-star admiral and CNN analyst John Kirby, gave advice on how to attack disinformation head-on and led a Q&A session for attendees. He emphasized the importance of teaching media literacy in the community and fact-checking all sources.

Attendees watching John Kirby lecture on disinformation; photo captured by Ripsime Avetisyan at Center Lecture

Kirby knows the media industry from both sides of the microphone. As former Navy chief of information, Pentagon press secretary, spokesman for the State Department and current CNN analyst, he has a deep understanding of the world of journalism, media and disinformation.

“We the consumers and purveyors of news and information must prove willing to change the way we absorb and interpret that information,” said Kirby. “Until we do, no amount of regulation, legislation or cyber defenses are going to save us from the perils of disinformation.”

The event gave attendees the opportunity to create an open dialogue in becoming less vulnerable to disinformation. Kirby’s speech and activities, including “battle stations” and an interactive “how do you combat disinformation” display, armed attendees with new tactics to recognize and push back against false information. This display consisted of a black metal grate with cards tied onto it. On these cards, attendees were encouraged to write about how they currently combat disinformation.

Photo captured by Alexis Hopper at Center Lecture

For example, San Diego State University sophomore Kelsi Dugas said, “I find the truth by always reading more to look for consistency” on the “how do you combat disinformation” display.

Sometimes we are the ones responsible for spreading disinformation by amplifying the wrong message. “Really pay attention to who you’re retweeting, who you are believing, and who you are amplifying with their message,” said Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA.

Attendees discussing battle tactics to stop disinformation during the “battle station” activity; photo captured by Ripsime Avetisyan at Center Lecture

Attendees left this event with a clear perspective and actionable steps they can take to combat the spread of disinformation.

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