'Fake News' course comes to COD courtesy of ex-CIA agent
Wheaton resident Joe Goldberg was taken aback when he was asked to create a new course on fake news for the College of DuPage.
"Your first reaction is, 'You're kidding, because it's a huge topic,'" said Goldberg, an adjunct professor who teaches other mass communication classes at the Glen Ellyn-based school.
Goldberg titled his class "Fake News & The Search for Truth in Today's Media." The three-credit course begins Sept. 21.
Sandy Fries, program chair of mass communications and journalism at COD, reached out to Goldberg more than a year ago. Fries says he felt Goldberg was uniquely qualified to develop a curriculum examining fake news.
"(Goldberg) is a former covert agent for the CIA," Fries said. "He knows about this subject matter in a way that goes beyond textbooks and what most people would know."
Goldberg worked for the CIA from 1985 to 1993, focusing on propaganda, analysis, recruitment and training. He drew from his CIA career as inspiration for his self-published 2014 fictional thriller "Secret Wars: An Espionage Story."
Goldberg said he already incorporates introductory media literacy lessons in his existing courses. But Goldberg's new class allowed him to go deeper into ways that suspect information can spread and be weaponized.
With social media, "we're all broadcasters, we're all journalists, we're all content creators," Goldberg said. "This can all help fake news to proliferate."
Goldberg plans on exploring traditional propaganda and how graphs and data can be altered to deceive. Goldberg also outlined different types of false information including disinformation (deliberately created deceptive information), misinformation (mistakes or errors that could do damage) and "malinformation" (the manipulation of true source materials to cause harm).
Increases in technology also factor into Goldberg's course. These include the digital manipulation of a person's voice and moving image for "deepfake" videos, and how search engine logarithms can reinforce a person's preexisting "bias bubble."
Goldberg said he hopes students who take his course will share what they learn. That's because friends and family can sometimes have more influence on shaping a person's perceptions rather than established news sources.
For example, instead of immediately sharing a graphic meme on Facebook that affirms your biases, Goldberg suggests people should take a moment "to identify, to be critical of it, to decide what you believe, where it came from, what's the motive behind it -- the types of questions you would normally ask but people don't ask anymore."
Fries said Goldberg's course is aimed at COD's mass communication students. But he hopes others pursuing different degrees will consider it, especially in the midst of an election year and a global pandemic.
"Everybody needs to be aware what is a reliable source and what is not," Fries said. "You could be a student, you could be a doctor -- whatever you are, if you are living your life based upon unreliable sources, you are in deep trouble."
For more information, visit cod.edu/registration.