Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News

The phrase “fake news” has entered American lingo with the same force as the person who proliferated it took over the Republican party in 2016. Google Trends shows that the term had an exaggerated spike in search frequency starting in October 2016 with the peak of the search term occurring in February 2017. While the frequency has never reached the climax it did in February 2017, the search frequency is still significantly more elevated since 45 began his campaign for the presidency than anytime before that.

The increased search frequency of fake news online appears to play out in reality as well. It seems that when people of different ideologies have a disagreement, evidence presented by one party will be called “fake news” by the disagreeing party.  Or more commonly, people will label statements as “fake news” if they personally don’t agree with the statement, regardless of the facts surrounding what was said.

The phrase has been referred to as a phenomenon. It has been studied by MIT, the results of which were published in Science magazine and reported in The Atlantic. It has prompted leading universities such as Penn State, University of Michigan, University of California – Santa Barbara and even Harvard University to either post an article or dedicate several pages of their websites to defining, understanding and, basically, fighting against the spread of fake news. Even news distributors such as Huff Post and Fox News have either dedicated pages or aired segments of their website to “Fake News.”

What impact does this have on society? The proliferation of the dissemination of false and misleading information begets the requirement of being news literate. Being able to discern between biased and flagrantly incorrect data is the key to accurately understanding the world around us and the events that take place within it. The following steps will help begin the journey towards news literacy.

    • The first step is to understand what defines fake news. The University of Michigan provides a thorough definition. Essentially, its complicated and the linked guide categorizes 7 types of misinformation. Review the characteristics of each type and actively look to find them in your online travels.
    • Get your emotions in check. Remember that articles are purposefully crafted to evoke an emotional response to throw off the reader’s logical thinking. Many times, the inflammatory title has little to do with the story. Let your emotions flair, then let them go and look for the facts.
    • Ask questions! Almost any credible fake news guide available will undoubtedly advise to ask questions. This fake news guide from Harvard University provides some excellent questions to start asking when reading online content.
    • Seek independent unbiased news sources. Tall order. I know. But there are some out there:
      • First and foremost is the trusted C-SPAN.  It broadcasts live from the floors of Congress.  A great activity is to actually watch what happens in government and C-SPAN and then watch how the media reports on it.
      • Another independent news source, though it focuses on news local to NJ, is NJ Spotlight. This news service provides daily coverage of events in Trenton in a way that doesn’t focus on the partisan aspect of politics, but instead the facts. Very refreshing. They also host round tables and panels with local officials and moderate political debates.
      • NPR can be trusted for producing high quality content. They are an independent and non profit media company that provides written articles, radio programs, podcasts and live events.
      • Reuters proclaims on its about page to operate on the principals of independence, integrity and freedom of bias. This is an excellent source to search a particular topic after reading an inflammatory article.
    • Sometimes, not sharing is caring. One basic rule of thumb, which we have all broken at least once or twice in our lives, is do not share anything out of outrage or anger.  It’s okay to be outraged; its okay to feel anger. However, as mentioned previously, some articles are designed to make you angry. Its important to do due diligence prior to sharing the possible fake news content.

Being prepared to deal with the onslaught of content, information and opinions people face each day requires a skill that can be easily acquired if one gives a concerted effort. Try to consciously practice one technique at a time until it becomes second nature.

Leave a comment

Filed under News Literacy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s