Roundtable talks ‘Future of Facts in Latin America’
The Future of Facts project, an interdisciplinary working group aiming to analyze disinformation in Latin America, hosted a roundtable discussion Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to move forward with studying the information landscape in the area.
The roundtable included Andrea Ballestero and Andrew Lakoff, professor of anthropology and professor of sociology and anthropology at USC, respectively, Eden Medina, a science, technology and society professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gabriela Soto Laveaga, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, and Kregg Hetherington, professor of sociology and anthropology at Concordia University.
Ballestro opened the event with a short introduction. She overviewed the Future of Facts project and the objectives of the roundtable.
“[The Future of Facts] project emerges from the recognition that the compounding crisis of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically intensified the ongoing redefinition of facts and truth claims,” she said. “Also associated with rising religious fundamentalism and new forms of populism. This reconfiguration has been crucially fueled by the acceleration of information technologies as well.”
Ballestro emphasized the need for conversations surrounding this phenomenon in South America specifically, as discussion centering the region has remained sparse despite many issues and research projects stemming from the area.
“When Latin America enters the picture, it is as an extreme example of something that is simmering elsewhere, or as another episode in its long history of under development, dependency and marginality, to global centers of epistemic political and economic power,” Ballestro said.
Inaugural Director of the Center for Latinx and Latin American Studies at USC, Juan De Lara, spoke about collaborating with the USC Center for Science, Technology, and Public Life on related projects that examine how marginalized groups obtain and disseminate information regarding various social issues, including the climate crisis. He emphasized the need to conduct these projects with the respect that is due to Latin American communities, especially when they have previously not been treated in such a way.
“We are committed as a center to interdisciplinary and transnational collaboration that advances economic, social and political wellbeing for all peoples in the Americas,” De Lara said. “We are also committed to engaging in hemispheric approaches that recognize and promote the diversity of Latinidad across the Americas.”
Andrew Lakoff, the director of the USC Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life, asked panelists questions regarding papers that they have written, how facts inspire and allow action to take place and the reliance of social justice movements on “truth claims.”
Medina spoke on this reliance in the context of her work surrounding those who disappeared under the Chilean dictatorship. She said families who wanted to request information on disappeared loved ones had to make a stable truth claim the loved one had been a victim of the dictatorship. She also spoke about what can occur when such facts unravel.
“When [facts] come undone, they can do emotional harm,” Medina said. “They can affect the relationship between the state and the citizenry, it can be a loss of faith in the state, it can be a loss of faith and science. It can, in some instances, it can delegitimize accounts for the past … In this particular context, being able to make those sort of stable claims, it’s very important.”
Soto Laveaga said examining the responses to current crises in Latin America can help others respond to their own in the future, especially in the context of fact-making and unraveling.
“Within this inability of certain groups to step outside of the chaos, it’s how they are creating a space to be able to dialogue,” she said. “That’s where we can learn about fact creation, about contestation, but also of where we’re going, and I think that’s why Latin America is a really interesting space from which to look at. Because life continues, and you have to keep living in these circumstances.”