The term “fake news” burst on to the scene during the 2016 election and appears to have earned a permanent spot in the journalistic and political lexicon. But what does it actually mean? Journalists, social media outlets, politicians and news consumers can’t seem to agree on what the term encompasses, much less what its impact and potential remedies are. Do tech companies bear responsibility for containing it, and can they do so without bias or improper censorship? What is the role of the traditional press?
These were some of the questions and issues addressed by a panel of professionals in media, politics and law at a sold-out public forum at Sonoma State University on Tuesday, Sept. 19. The panel, titled “Fake News and the First Amendment,” included David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition based in San Rafael, Annika Toernqvist, digital director for Sonoma Media Investments, Sonoma State political science professor Dave McCuan and First Amendment attorney Karl Olson. The moderator for the event was Paul Gullixson, editorial director for The Press Democrat and faculty adviser to the Sonoma State Star.
Annika Toernqvist manages online traffic, online content and product developments for The Press Democrat, Petaluma Argus-Courier, The Sonoma Index-Tribune, North Bay Business Journal and Sonoma magazine. Before joining Sonoma Media, she was executive producer and general manager of content and traffic at the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, SFGate.com. and at Microsoft, directing its online support operation in Northern Europe, and held several positions at a Swedish online community.
Dave McCuan joined the faculty of Sonoma State in Fall 2003. His expertise rests in two broad areas – American politics and International Relations. McCuan’s research focuses on state and local elections, and his teaching responsibilities include courses in both international and national politics, international security and terrorism, state and local politics, campaigns and elections, and political behavior. His doctorate was granted from the University of California – Riverside in 2002. Dr. McCuan was a Fulbright Teaching Scholar in 2009-2010, working in the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic where he taught courses in US National Security Policy, Terrorism, and US Foreign Policy.
Karl Olson specializes in defending news media clients and individuals against defamation and ‘SLAPP suits’ (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). He has successfully defended dozens of such cases in his 33-year legal career. He has also successfully handled numerous battles for access to public records under the California Public Records Act, including a successful lawsuit decided by the California Supreme Court involving access to public employee salaries. Karl won the 2005 James Madison award for legal counsel from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and was featured in a front-page article in San Francisco’s Daily Journal, “Attorney Who Advocates for Public Access Wins Praise” (March 16, 2005). He won the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Award in 2012.
Paul Gullixson is Editorial Director for The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa where he manages the editorial and op-ed pages. He also oversees the content and production of the opinion pages on PressDemocrat.com, the newspaper’s Web site. Among his responsibilities, Paul writes editorials, a twice-monthly column and co-authors a blog titled “Inside Opinion.”
Before coming to The Press Democrat as an editorial writer in 1998, he served as Peninsula Bureau Chief for the San Francisco Chronicle. Prior to that, he was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly and worked for the Peninsula Times Tribune. Paul is a native of Palo Alto and a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism.
David Snyder, the First Amendment Coalition’s Executive Director, is a lawyer and journalist. His work as a reporter spanned nearly 16 years, including time at the Albuquerque Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, the New York Times (as a freelancer), and the Washington Post, where he was a reporter on the metro staff from 2000 to 2005. As a lawyer, Snyder represented journalists and news media for Sheppard Mullin between 2009 and 2016. Snyder received his B.A. with highest honors from the University of Texas at Austin’s Plan II Honors Program. He holds a B.S. in Journalism with honors from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law (Boalt Hall).