Character assassination conference promotes dialogue aimed at solutions

Destroying someone’s reputation—or character assassination—can happen rapidly in a digital age. Particularly in politics, claims of fake news and personal character attacks often make civil discourse uncivil.

What exactly is this phenomenon, and how does it affect democracy?

This weekend, scholars and professionals from around the world will meet at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus to share their insights at Character Assassination and Populism: Challenges and Responses, a conference hosted by Mason’s Lab for Character Assassination and Reputation Politics (CARP).

“[Character assassination] isn’t a one-time event—it’s not just about some bad individuals who are doing this to other good people,” said Sergei A. Samoilenko, communication professor and one of the founders of CARP. “It’s a systemic problem.”

That problem extends worldwide and is largely a product of polarization and media that can be focused on negative content driven for clickbait, Samoilenko said.

“We all have a social responsibility to go ahead and study these issues and then be socially responsible.”

The topic of character assassination is relevant across disciplines, too, Samoilenko said, making the conference a great fit for students and scholars in fields such as political science, conflict resolution, public relations, history, sociology, psychology and more.

On Saturday, attendees will hear from keynote speaker Shawn Turner, president of Mpact Communication, and two professional panels speaking about character assassination in journalism and military campaigns. The panel experts have worked on campaigns that involved reputation management in times of peace and war, Samoilenko said. Attendees will also hear from scholars in Mason’s top-rated School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

“The major takeaway is to stay civil and not be afraid to explore something that is unknown,” Samoilenko said. “Having an open mind and an open heart is the only way you can really find solutions as a scholar, and that’s what we encourage.”

“I’m thrilled Mason is the home where those things are being studied and where people learn from us as a flagship research center that looks at those social problems,” he said.

The keynote address and official sessions take place on Mason’s Arlington Campus, in Founders Hall on Saturday, March 16, and Sunday, March 17, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information and to register, visit