Professor Barbara Allen; Credit: Jazmin Campbell /

On the evening of Tuesday 9 April 2024, about 30 people gathered at QoSQo restaurant in Luxembourg-Ville for an event dedicated to “Misinformation and Disinformation in Public Affairs”.

Organised by Democrats Abroad Luxembourg, the official country committee of US Democrats living in the Grand Duchy, this event saw guest speaker Professor Barbara Allen share her insight into the subject of misinformation, disinformation and “fake news”. The interactive event, featuring a lively Q&A session, particularly targeted Luxembourg-based marketing and communications professionals with an interest in public affairs.

Barbara Allen is James Woodward Strong Professor of the Liberal Arts and Professor of Political Science and former chair of the Department of Political Science and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. She is currently teaching as a Visiting Professor at the University of Luxembourg. Professor Allen has several publications to her name, including the award-winning research-based book Truth in Advertising? Lies in Political Advertising and How They Affect the Electorate, which she co-authored with Daniel Stevens.

In her multimedia presentation, Professor Allen noted that the aim was for attendees to question what misinformation is, noting that even trusted media brands have “slants” - but what is and what is not acceptable? The presentation focused on the example of news coverage of the storming of the United States Capitol on 6 January 2021. Using curated tweets and video footage, Professor Allen demonstrated how US media reported on events in different ways and noted that a lot of reporters were unaware of what was actually happening but were still reporting on events in real time. Moral of the story? If not actually present at an event, question what really happened.

Professor Allen looked at definitions of “misinformation” (false or inaccurate information that may have been shared mistakenly and without intent to harm - although still potentially damaging), “disinformation” (false information that is shared with the intention to deliberately mislead or harm) and even “malinformation” (genuine information used to cause harm). The presenter also stressed the need to be able to distinguish between opinion pieces and journalism (fact-based news stories).

Other topics addressed included (political) belief certainty (one study found that many respondents knew the truth but were unaware or uncertain of their knowledge), conspiracy theories and what feeds them, artificial intelligence, and the “spiral of silence” theory (linked to perceived popular opinion - often in the media - and a feeling of isolation if one feels alone in having a different opinion).

In terms of tacking misinformation and disinformation, education plays a key role. Professor Allen noted that efforts are being made in schools in the European Union to tackle disinformation, although this is not currently the case in the United States. She encouraged people to check out local media coverage of certain issues and warned against talking down to people with different beliefs from oneself (e.g. in the context of conspiracy theories) - research has shown that people who feel their beliefs are being pulled out from under them often double down on those beliefs.

Above all, Professor Allen reiterated that there is a slant to everything in the media, so “question all of it”; get informed but also use one's own judgment (based on past experiences) to determine what is believable. Attendees were encouraged to think for themselves and critically analyse the information being presented to them.

The event also saw Democrats Abroad Luxembourg Chair Lynette Stoltzfus encourage those eligible to make their voices heard at the upcoming US election. She recalled that approximately nine million US citizens currently live abroad, including about 6.5 million eligible voters. According to STATEC, there were 2,144 US citizens residing in the Grand Duchy as of 1 January 2023.