Tips to discern fake news

Gian Carlo Baldonado, Staff Writer

When the “New York Journal” and the “New York World” both wrote sensationalized articles about the sinking of the USS Maine and blamed the Spanish for the casualties in 1898, the so-called “yellow press” not only inflamed readers but might also have spawned the Spanish-American War.

U.S. history students may recall that the yellow press (also known as yellow journalism) was “a type of newspaper that emphasized sensationalism over facts,” according to the U.S. Office of the Historian website, and more concrete evidence suggests that the ship sank due to an internal mechanical failure.

However, such elaborate newspaper reportings had a stinging impact on the public, and it is hard not to analogize yellow journalism with today’s fake news.

From Obama signing an executive order to ban the Pledge of Allegiance in schools nationwide to a woman being arrested for defecating on her boss’ desk after winning a lottery, fake news is back to gain shares and likes on social media.

“Freedom of the press is such a valuable precious right, but with the advent of social media, too many people believe what they read [online],” social science teacher Alan Phipps said.

According to a Buzzfeed analysis in Reuter Institute’s “Journalism, Media and Technology Trends in 2017,” between August and election day of 2016, the total engagement of users with fake news was 8.7 million on Facebook, which is 1.4 million more engagements than users who read factual news.

“Fake news is certainly a growing trend for our generation….I believe this election cycle was so divisive and so digitally-focused (think about what an institution Donald Trump is on Twitter alone) that it heightened the impact of fake news,” local sportswriter Thomas Lawrence said.

To help students better discern fake and factual news, Lawrence said that, although he is not certain schools have the obligation, educating students in media literacy is certainly a “helpful tool.”

“Huffington Post” journalist Sam Wineburg’s article “4 Steps Schools Need to Take to Combat Fake News” delineates the major ways schools can teach to outsmart fake news.

First on the list is to train teachers in media literacy.

An Edelman Berland study, according to the same article, showed that 59 percent of adults couldn’t differentiate an ad from a news story, while another study from Stanford revealed that 82 percent of middle school students struggled to do the same.

If schools want to educate students in navigating the Internet and the media, teachers must first be well-versed in news literacy.

The second step is to prioritize the basic information students need to know when reading the news.

Tech giant Microsoft offers “Developing Critical Thinking Through Web Research Skills,” a 36-page online document that explores hundreds of ways to become web literate.

However, for schools to be more efficient, students need a simpler, faster, and perhaps a more memorable system to discern fake from real news.

College professor and YouTuber John Spencer created a simple way to help his students analyze the news: the 5 C’s of critical consuming –– context, credibility, construction, corroboration and comparison to other reliable news sources.

The third step schools can take to educate students in media literacy is to “scrap the inadequate guides [schools] currently use.”

Schools often have guidelines like the “Five Criteria for Web Evaluation” to remind students to check for spelling errors, banner ads, and faulty links while skimming through the website.

But doctored or advertised news has evolved so that it is more difficult to distinguish between fake and real news stories. Students often think “they know something when, actually, they know little,” according to Wineburg’s article.

“Websites use the ad revenue they make, and when they put up fake news, it attracts different people,” sophomore Jasmine Shinn said. “Those people will spread the fake news, and the site makes more money from the ads.”

The last step is to teach students where all information comes from.

Two reliable websites may interpret research reports differently; if students are more knowledgeable on how to determine the construction of the news, then they are more able to see through the bias and slant portrayed in the media.

“I always thought [journalism’s goal] is to remain neutral and report the facts; [today’s news] seems too opinionated and it’s not [the news reporters’] job to make the opinions,” Phipps said.

“[Fake news] is troublesome for individual Americans and western Democracy as a whole because it’s the epitome of our rapid-reaction culture,” Lawrence added. “We need to take the time to look closely at would-be important news stories,” he cautions, to see if the news is “being heavily-tilted in one political direction or another.”