People curious about fake news now have a new tool available: a graphic novel.
The work of New Brunswick sociologist Erin Steuter is well-known to NB Media Co-op readers as our organization previously held a workshop on the topic of fake news with her in March of 2017 in Fredericton. This was held after Steuter held a similar workshop in February 2017 in Sackville called “Fighting Fake News: Tips for Aspiring Truth Detectives.”
The Mount Allison University sociologist teamed up with Moncton-based artist and illustrator Alan Spinney to create a graphic novel called Won’t Get Fooled Again: A Graphic Guide to Fake News. The graphic novel was published recently by Between the Lines, a progressive Toronto-based publishing house.
In the book, Steuter “explains the ways that governments, media owners, advertisers, powerful corporations, and think tanks can influence the organization and content of the news media to manipulate voters or reap billions in profits.”
In the past, Steuter has stated that, besides Donald Trump’s now infamous denunciations of “fake news,” the influence of the Irvings in New Brunswick’s news media is also important and influential.
Spinney’s black and white images are basic but very descriptive. Along with real-world characters who are learning about fake media, the comic features “Mouseland” where a character called “Presidential Candidate Stars the Cat” makes lots of promises to the mice.
This character is a veiled reference to Trump and parodies some of the outrageous and untrue communications that are being shared by the president of the United States in person and on social media.
The graphic novel makes thinking critically about news even easier, at a time when even some social media giants like Facebook are fact-checking and labelling some of the content in their applications.
The NB Media Co-op asked Steuter a few questions about the new publication.
Why is the topic of fake news still relevant, three years since your workshops on fake news?
Steuter: Fake news has really proliferated in recent years, especially on topics of importance such as the coronavirus pandemic and police brutality. Globally, politicians have weaponized the term fake news to slander reporting that they disagree with. We really need to enhance our critical thinking skills in times like these.
Why publish a graphic novel?
Steuter: A graphic novel is a great format to feature characters in conversation with each other which is what we really need to be doing in the face of fake news. There is research that shows that people shut down their engagement with others to avoid be exposed to fake news or controversial topics. But when you are in an information silo or filter bubble that is when fake news flourishes. Having conversations about the news and discussing if there is disinformation or propaganda is a good way to share ideas and learn more. All that comes across very well in a graphic novel format.
Is the Irving influence on media in New Brunswick included in the book ?
Steuter: The book is meant for a worldwide audience so the examples are designed for everyone to relate to. Media owners with political agendas that distort our knowledge are certainly featured. There are also a set of characters who are hard-working reporters at the frontlines trying to win back the trust of the public which has been eroded by the journalism that has gotten in bed with advertisers.
What was it like for an academic to work with an illustrator?
Steuter: Working with an illustrator to bring my text to life with engaging characters and comic book-style design was a wonderful experience. Alan Spinney is so creative and brought great visual elements to the project. He created some memorable characters that make you laugh.
Who do you hope will read the book?
Steuter: Even though the graphic novel is often embraced by young people, I think that all ages will enjoy Won’t Get Fooled Again. It is written in bite-sized topics that are easy to dip into for a quick read as well as some fun story arcs that are more immersive. It is amazing how much you can learn reading even a short dialogue between characters.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op and is a member of the editorial board.