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Fake news is like a social disease;
we need to treat more than its wounds

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by John Bowen, MJE
The spread of fake news is like a socially transmitted disease for which we now only treat the wounds, Kelly McBride, Vice President, The Pointer Institute, told those attending the Fake or Fact? workshop Sept.22 at Kent State University.

What we figure how, she said, is how to stop the epidemic.

McBride was one of 15 speakers who spoke and answered questions at the 13th annual ethics worker sponsored by The Poynter Institute and Kent State’s School of Journalism.

Archived video and resource materials are available here.

Simply defining fake news, McBride said, will not help the problem. Reaching students and young people through awareness and education will do more.

Fake news is a system of distribution, McBride said. The top 20 fake headlines were shared by 1.3 more people than the top 20 real heads.

Facebook and social media make it possible, Indira Lakshmanan, Newmark Chair in Journalism Ethics at The Poynter Institute told the audience of students, professionals and faculty.

Mizel Stewart III, Vice President, News Operations, Gannett and USA Today, said the distribution system that spreads fake news in its many varieties works because people don’t trust the media. A lack of media credibility led to fake news, even though it is not new, just further reaching because of new technology and the speed of information spread.

Mandy Jenkins, Head of News at Storyful, said journalists need to verify accuracy, be transparent about what we as news media know and seek authenticity of information and sources. We as audiences and journalists need to know who spreads information, what connections they have, who funds them, and what is the reality of what they are saying.

This causes diminished trust in legitimate journalism with potentially dangerous real-world consequences, Stewart said.

For example, reporters take more time to verify and fact-check and accuracy and context, have reduced capacity for original reporting, he added.

Because anyone can be a publisher, Stewart said at best society ends up with distortion, creating the need for knowledge and tools to identify fake information of all types.

Finding media and sources we trust and why, Jenkins said, is crucial to defeating mis- and disinformation.

Stewart added news systems are easily manipulated by those who best understand how they work, citing the rush to be first, omission of background or context and the fact people often supporting information or sites sharing what we already believe.

Other points shared by various speakers:

  • Should media report everything the president tweets?
  • Alternative story forms can be a good way to debunk fake news
  • Share information about fake sites. Associated Press has a weekly story on What’s New in Fake News
  • Once a reporter has exhausted Google, what are the next eight layers of information available for overlooked information (libraries, public records and hard copy data)
  • The professionalism of information sites and sources is important, as is supporting their points
  • Real journalists correct their mistakes. Fake news does not. Is the intent of the media to deceive?
  • Too many reporters have no experience with sources lying or distorting. How do we train them to be aware of it?
  • Spreaders of fake news are now using the First Amendment as a weapon against itself so fake news seems to equal real news

“The audience,” Stewart said in response to a question, “has been conditioned to expect opinion as journalism. How do we deal with that?”

For additional information and lessons on fake new prevention and identification, see our Tools of Truth fake news package,

 

 

 

 

 

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