The Need for Critical Thinking and Co-operation

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The Need for Critical Thinking and Co-operation

Russian research fellow Pavel Koshkin shares his perspective on US-Russia relations and how to curb fake news Pavel Koshkin at Salzburg Global Seminar

To err is human, but journalists who make errors in today’s climate receive little sympathy. For some critics, an honest mistake can be a sign of a hidden agenda, or proof of “fake news” and a corrupt media. The reality is slightly different. Our decision-making is affected when we work under pressure, and it is no different for reporters, according to Russian journalist Pavel Koshkin. “You have an assignment from an editor... You have to write it [and] come up with a story for one hour. It should be analytical, in-depth. You have to interview a couple of people, two or three. It’s crazy, I think.”

Koshkin, a research fellow at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia, has experience in this field. While working as a journalist, Koshkin covered topics related to US-Russia relations for several Russian media outlets, including RBC Daily, Russia Direct, Cyber World, and more. He currently contributes to Forbes.ru.

“Mistakes are not fake news, and to prevent these mistakes, I think all American newspapers and Russian ones should establish [a] good department of fact-checkers – a separate department. It’s a separate profession because a staff writer can write well, can interview well, can just collect information well, but there should be a fact-checker. It’s [a] top priority.” Koshkin spoke while attending the 17th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends. As one would expect, “fake news” was a popular topic of discussion.

During the symposium, Koshkin took part in a panel discussion on the issue of fake news and the media. In Koshkin’s opinion, fake news is a “very important” problem that requires our attention. Fake news, he says, is “a deliberate attempt to spread falsehood(s), false information for the sake of manipulation, and this information is distributed by groups of interest by certain stakeholders. I don’t know who they are, but they pursue either political goals or corporate goals.

What fake news is not, however, is propaganda. “Fake news is not propaganda. It’s a part of propaganda. Propaganda is a broader term; it might use fake news to achieve its goals."

Koshkin developed his interest in the US as a junior in the journalism department at Moscow State University. He says, “I was crazy about American culture, movies, music, literature,” he remembers. “[I] attended a lot of lectures at the American Center in Moscow. They’re called ‘American Corners’ in Moscow. There is one in St. Petersburg, in Kazan, and I just attended every time they had lectures just to talk with native speakers.”

In 2010, as a result of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Koshkin received a scholarship to attend the Tennessee Technology University for one year. His experience deepened his interest in the nation. “I was exposed to American life, ordinary life, culture. I had an opportunity to travel a lot around the United States,” he reminisces.  

As the years have gone by, Koshkin has further immersed himself in US-Russia relations. One of his primary goals now is to see how both countries can work together. Koshkin says, “I think with Russia, the US should be friends. I know it’s idealistic. I know it’s gullible today, but I don’t care whether it’s gullible or not. I believe it. This is me and nobody else… I really believe that the US and Russia should work together, or should minimize this distrust… We need people… who bring together two countries when their relations are in bad shape.”

Improving those relations would partly depend on improving understanding – and thus reducing fake news.

“We need to be mindful about the limits of [the] human brain: we have so much information that we are not able to process and, most importantly, understand. We live in abundance, but we are fed up with it. We have numerous sources of information on the Web, but we find ourselves lost in this ocean of data. Sometimes we even don’t know how to use it [in] a practical way.

“Paradoxically, the more we get, the less we know. It is a paradox, which sometimes makes us more vulnerable to manipulation and fake news.”

“What is to be done?” he asks. “We need to focus on critical thinking and sound skepticism (do not confuse [this] with nihilism), we need to be more painstaking and meticulous in nuances. The Devil is in the details.”


The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on social media using the hashtag #SSASA.