UMFK Scholars’ Symposium to address ‘fake news’ and the importance of truth

FORT KENT, Maine — The public is invited as guest speakers and students explore the proliferation of misinformation and fake news in our lives as part of this year’s Scholar’s Symposium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

The theme of this year’s 9th annual symposium, whose main events are scheduled for April 19 and 20, is: “What’s Real, What’s Not: In Search of Truth.”

“The topic was selected because information literacy is of vital concern to everyone, college students in particular, and especially in light of the current political climate and abundance of unmoderated information on social media, of ‘Fake News,’ and of ‘Alternative Facts’,” said Dr. Kurt Holzhausen, chair of the symposium organizing committee.

Guest speakers during the symposium include visiting Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Fanbin Zeng, who will present on “The Relationship Between Social Media Use and Citizen Participation in the United States.” Zeng will speak at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, at Fox Auditorium.

UMFK President John Short will kick off activities on Friday, April 20, with an introductory welcome, followed by a pre-recorded presentation by U.S. Sen. Angus King.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Josh Pasek, will discuss biases in processing media misinformation at 9:15 a.m. that Friday.

Pasek is currently an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, where he conducts research on how new media and psychological processes each shape political attitudes, public opinion, and political behaviors.

“We hope attendees will come away with a better appreciation for the importance of truth to our political system, a greater ability to distinguish between matters of fact and matters of opinion, a better understanding of how people process information in deciding how to judge the veracity of information and of how some politicians attempt to manipulate that processing,” Holzhausen said.

After Pasek speaks, several students will make presentations in the auditorium about the research they have done in their chosen fields. The symposium then will move to the UMFK Sports Center from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for the hugely popular poster and project session, where students will display their research or projects, and answer questions about them.

The symposium actually started with Northeast Publishing Co. general manager Andrew Birden addressing fake news in a presentation to more than 50 students and faculty members at UMFK’s Nadeau Hall on Thursday, April 5.  

“Trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t has become difficult because there is just so much information out there,” Birden said, during his talk titled, “The Common Man’s Guide to Reliable News.”

Birden has been presenting on the topic at sites throughout the St. John Valley for several years now.

“One, we need to have a real definition of fake news,” Birden said. “Fake news is news that is published with the intent of harming people or misleading people so they make choices that hurt themselves.”

Birden will return to the topic as part of a “Fake News” panel discussion beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Nadeau Hall Teleconference Room. Other panel participants will be Bangor Daily News journalist Julia Bayly, Dr. Zeng and UMFK Professor Dr. Paul Buck.

In keeping with this year’s theme, the university also will be showing the movie, “The Brainwashing of My Father” at Nadeau Hall at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 13.

Members of the public are welcome to attend symposium events free of charge.

For further information on the symposium, contact Dr. Kurt Holzhausen at (207) 834-7621 or A schedule of symposium events is also available at the UMFK website.

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