Fake news reaches epic proportions

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In the era of social media and easy accessibility to news, real and fake, it is important to learn how to become a media literate citizen. Photo by Emily Steinhardt.

By Emily Steinhardt

“Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide,” read the headline of an article published by ABC News on Dec. 11, 2016, garnering more than 2 million shares on Facebook.

This may sound like a legitimate article but is, in fact, a fake news source disguising itself to look real. The fake source it came from was ABCNews.com. co, a website disguised to mimic ABCNews.com. ABC recently changed its URL because of this mishap.

According to Forbes, stories like the one mentioned in the opening paragraph have been a benefit to a growing industry of sites that deliberately publish misleading stories with the hope that they’ll go viral.

Although false stories are nothing new, fake news has boomed due to the rise of social media.

Stopping the proliferation of fake news isn’t just the responsibility of the platforms used to spread it. Those who consume news need to find ways of determining if what they’re reading is true, experts believe.

To protect oneself from fake news sources, consumers can visit several fact checking sites, such as Snopes, which has been exposing false viral claims since the mid-1990s, whether that’s fabricated messages, distortions containing bits of truth, and everything in between.

Similar sites include Fact Check, PolitiFact, and Open Secrets, all three specialize in fact checking U.S. politics. Open Secrets also tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.

But the public can’t rely solely on websites to weed out fake news, according to NPR. It is equally as important that articles are fact checked by the individuals reading them as well.

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To that end, NPR offered seven tips for reading news articles online in an article titled “Fake Or Real? How To Self- Check The News And Get The Facts,” published on Dec. 5 2016.

Paying attention to the domain and URL of the website is the first tip. This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos.

Another tip is to pay attention to the “About Us” section. On websites, this section tells you about who runs the site and who sponsors it.

The language in the article should be very straight forward. If it’s melodramatic and seems overblown, you should be skeptical, according to NPR.

Fact Check also suggests that news consumers investigate the author if the article seems suspicious by researching the author and verifying everything the news site says about her is true.

Many teachers and professors are stepping in to educate their students about fake news as well.

When Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., saw her students referencing questionable sources, she created and shared a document that encouraged them to think carefully about sources, as well as a list of misleading, satirical and fake sites.

The document is 31 pages long. Twenty-seven of the pages contain a list of 881 websites and their reliability according to Zimdars and a librarian she is working with from OpenSources.

Scott Bedley, a 5th-grade teacher at Plaza Vista School in Irvine, Calif., is teaching his students about false news through Simon Says. In Bedley’s version of Simon Says, it’s not those two magic words that keep you in the game, but deciding correctly whether a news story is real or not.

To start off the game, Bedley sends his fifth-graders an article to read on their laptops. He gives them about three minutes to make their decision; they have to read the story carefully, examine its source and use their judgment. Those who think the article is true stay in their seats, those who think it’s fake stand up. Most importantly, they have to explain why they thought it was fake. Otherwise, no points.

“Police found 22 dead bodies in Michigan’s Flint River in April 2016,” reads the headline of an article published by News4KTLA on April 29, 2016.

You decide, real or fake?

Contact Emily Steinhardt at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu