2018-04-14 / Features

Library program to focus on FAKE NEWS

BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the last two years, the term “fake news” has become a common catchphrase for all manner of news that is intentionally false or misleading.

Fake news is a relatively new term for an old phenomenon. As far back as the early 1900s, “yellow journalism” described questionable methods used by New York City tabloids as they battled for circulation. The term later morphed into “tabloid journalism,” practiced by newspapers such as the National Enquirer.

The Person County Library is planning a program on “Fake News & Media Literacy” from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, April 25, taught by Reference Librarian Becky Schneider. Call 336-597-7881 to register for the free class.

This is Schneider’s second year teaching the class, after a successful turnout last year. She has timed the class to occur in advance of the May 8 primary election, to give participants reliable tools, including websites, for finding information on candidates at the national, state and local level.


The Person County Public Library has planned a program on Fake News on Wednesday, April 25th. 
BILL WILLCOX | COURIER-TIMES The Person County Public Library has planned a program on Fake News on Wednesday, April 25th. BILL WILLCOX | COURIER-TIMES She defines fake news as “news that is not just false, but is false in order to intentionally mislead people or news that has been falsified to basically sensationalize the news and therefore get more people to read it.”

There are basically two motivations for creating fake news, she said. One is to make a profit, and one is designed to sway people’s opinions, especially in the political arena.

In both cases, the digital revolution has had a profound effect.

In the first case, “they are making up a story so that you will click on it, and then when you click on it, they get the ad revenue,” she said. “People are creating fake news stories because it is a really easy way to get money when you are selling advertising online.”

FAKE NEWS AND FACEBOOK

The second motivation only surfaced a couple years ago, around the time of the 2016 presidential election, and was intricately involved with social media, especially Facebook.

“Fake news became a very simple term to refer to these stories that were being spread on social media that have these headlines that make you mad,” she said, “headlines on any end of the political spectrum that are designed to get people’s emotions up.”

This often contributed to a polarization of voters, but Facebook made it easy.

In the past, if people wanted to spread fake news, it was much more difficult. They had to publish it in a paper or magazine, or print up a flyer and physically deliver it, or even mail it out.

“Now you can, with the click of a button, spread news stories that can come from anywhere and they can look like legitimate news, but anyone can put something online and then with social media anyone can share with their friends,” she said.

She said she plans to offer practical tips on spotting fake news.

“We’re going to look at some actual fake news stories and I’m going to have my students figure out if it is something that is fake or not,” she said.

The first question she advises asking is where the information came from.

“Who created this? Is it an institution that you are familiar with? Do they have credentials as journalists or researchers?”

The second question is whether the writer is trying to make the reader mad and upset.

“Are they trying to word things so they are playing on your emotions, and making you feel really strongly about a topic?” she asked. “Obviously there are news stories out there that are just inherently going to make you upset, that are going to be very sensitive, but journalists tend to use language that is even handed, that’s thoughtful.”

She particularly warns about stories posted on Facebook.

“When people are sharing news, it’s often through Facebook,” she said, “and it is really easy to see a news story on Facebook and click that little share button. It immediately goes out to all of your friends and at no point do you have to make any critical judgement on whether this is a good thing to share. It is a very impulsive decision.”

On the other end, the Facebook feed is designed to make all stories look the same, so a story that is posted by real news organizations looks exactly the same as fake news,” she said.

She said there is a profit motive for Facebook, because they have an incentive for keeping their members engaged for hours on their platform.

“That’s how they make money,” she said. “They want you to keep scrolling down that feed and look at everything and they want you to look at stories that are emotionally engaging. It would be great if people would try to learn better critical thinking skills on Facebook but Facebook is designed to shut down that part of your brain, it really is.”

Schneider then shifted her focus to talk about her upcoming program.

She said she intentionally scheduled the program before the May 8 primaries, in order to discuss specific ways to find information about candidates at the federal, state and local level.

“There are some websites where you can research candidate’s backgrounds and kind of dig into that a little bit, rather than just show up and there is this ballot with names you’ve never seen, so that’s something else I’m going to touch on,” she said.

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