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Fake news and media literacy

December 12, 2016

Tags: conspiracy theory, media literacy, clicks

Pat McNees, updated 10-13-17, 7-6-17, 6-8-17, 2-7-17, 1-11-17
To begin with: We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned (Laura Sydell, All Tech Considered, NPR, 11-23-16) During the run-up to the presidential election, fake news really took off. "It was just anybody with a blog can get on there and find a big, huge Facebook group of kind of rabid Trump supporters just waiting to eat up this red meat that they're about to get served," Coler says. "It caused an explosion in the number of sites. I mean, my gosh, the number of just fake accounts on Facebook exploded during the Trump election." Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait.
What do ordinary people think fake news is? Poor journalism and political propaganda. (Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Lucas Graves, Columbia Journalism Review, 10-24-17) "We spoke to ordinary people about fake news. What they qualify as a false story is notable. ...Journalists see news and advertising as completely separate kinds of information. But for users, they are encountered in the same context, and perceptions of one will color perceptions of the other...What kinds of journalism do audiences think qualify as fake news? People associate the term with superficial, inaccurate, and sensationalist reporting, especially in areas like celebrity, health, and sports coverage...people also see potentially misleading advertising as a kind of fake news. ...Like when you scroll down far enough and it is like “look at how these 12 child celebrities turned out,” and they are just ridiculous pictures....The term is used strategically by self-interested elites, amplified by news media, and has become part of the vernacular because it resonates with people’s lived experience of coming across all sorts of superficial, unreliable, and misleading information that they do not trust—much of it from journalists and politicians."
Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth (PDF, PEN America report, 10-12-17) Invaluable.
How to squash fake news without trampling free speech (Callum Borchers, WashPost, 10-12-17) About the PEN report and its findings and recommendations.
What We Can Learn from Fake News (Angela Cochran, The Scholarly Kitchen, 11-15-16) 'Facebook’s fake news problems started before election day when it replaced human curation of their “trending” news list with an algorithm....Facebook is not creating content, Facebook is distributing content. No one knows (or even cares) who created the content anymore."
"Fake news became such an internet issue that Google added a fact-checker function in the Google News results. It doesn’t always work." "It seems pretty clear that anyone who thinks “fake” news is not harming “real” news is sadly misinformed. Part of the problem is that newspapers gave away content in the digital revolution. Gave it all away. Now, no one wants to pay for it and an entire generation of “digital borns” never had to. The result is the shutting of papers and dwindling news staff."
Fake News (FactCheck.org) "FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network. We provide several resources for readers: a guide on how to flag suspicious stories on Facebook and a list of websites that have carried fake or satirical articles, as well as a video and story on how to spot fake news."
The President Versus ‘Fake News,’ Again (Bret Stephens, NY Times, 6-29-17) "Yet before dismissing Trump’s rants as evidence of his mental state, it’s worth taking them seriously as proof of political acumen." Trump's confidencel rating fell from 36% to 32% at a time when TV news had a 24% confidence level and newspapers 27%. "If nothing else, Trump has the bully’s cunning to pick on a target more unpopular than he is. And like a bully, he knows that his mark suffers the additional weakness of being susceptible to moral reproach."

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study (Sapna Maheshwari, NY Times, 11-20-16) "While some fake news is produced purposefully by teenagers in the Balkans or entrepreneurs in the United States seeking to make money from advertising, false information can also arise from misinformed social media posts by regular people that are seized on and spread through a hyperpartisan blogosphere. Here, The New York Times deconstructs how Mr. Tucker’s now-deleted declaration on Twitter the night after the election turned into a fake-news phenomenon."
With 'Fake News,' Trump Moves From Alternative Facts To Alternative Language (Danielle Kurtz, NPR, 2-17-17) "Trump casts all unfavorable news coverage as fake news....Technology has been a big aid in Trump's quest to redefine fake news. With the help of Twitter and Facebook, language is, arguably, slipperier than ever.
A 1964 Lesson in Fake News That Still Applies (Jim Dwyer, About New York, NY Times, 1-10-17) Released in 1964, before the presidential election, the privately (self) published book None Dare Call It Treason by John A. Stormer "claimed disloyalty to the United States was rampant among elites at the highest level of government....Mr. Stormer stuffed his tale of conspiracy with anecdotes and examples of what he said was communist infiltration of school boards, courthouses, the State Department and the White House. Franklin D. Roosevelt was quoted as saying that some of his best friends were communists, with the Congressional Record cited as the source." English teacher Lawrence Schaefer heard boys talking about the book (which still appears to have a big following--see Amazon site) and decided to use the book as a vehicle for teaching what we might now call "media literacy" (understanding how facts can be manipulated).

Ten Questions for Fake News Detection (The News Literacy Project, or NLP)
The Best Tools To Help Develop Global Media Literacy (Larry Ferlazzo, 3-12-09)
Blue Feed, Red Feed Liberal and conservative views on the same topic, side by side. Try "Trump," for example.
The Learning Network (New York Times web-based lessons in media literacy)

6 types of misinformation circulated this election season (Claire Wardle, Columbia Journalism Review, 11-18-16) She discusses and gives examples of
1. Authentic material used in the wrong context.
2. Imposter news sites designed to look like brands we already know.
3. Fake news sites.
4. Fake information.
5. Manipulated content.
6. Parody content.

To Fix Fake News, Look To Yellow Journalism (Alexandra Samuel, JStor Daily, 11-29-16) How The Internet Ruined Everything (Or Did It? Social media critics have been quick to blame Facebook and the spread of "fake news" for the election upset. But poorly researched and downright dishonest reporting has been undermining the first amendment since the early days of journalism. Click journalism has plenty of precedents in the history of mass media, and particularly, in the history of American journalism. A good starting point on this topic.

Skewed: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Media Bias by Larry Atkins, as reviewed on Philly.com: 'Skewed': How to be your own filter in the Web universe . "Atkins, a longtime adjunct professor of journalism at Temple University, Arcadia University, and Montgomery County Community College, lays out the difference between "clear and balanced" news and advocacy journalism. He highlights the urgency for media consumers to recognize this difference." Not that all advocacy journalism is bad -- it can also involve solid investigative journalism but then come down on a side: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is an example of advocating to advocate to expose corruption or harm. Here are Atkins' main points (HuffPost, 12-6-16)

After Comet Ping Pong and Pizzagate, teachers tackle fake news (Moriah Balingit, WaPo, 12-11-16) For conspiracy theorists, "pizzagate" didn't end when a man brought a gun to Comet Ping Pong in Washington in a misguided attempt to rescue child sex slaves. Instead, the shooting fired up further belief in the baseless claims.

Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: ‘This Is All About Income’ (Andrew Higgins, Mike McIntire, and Gabriel J.S. Dance, NY Times, 11-25-16) A fake news article posted by Beqa Latsabidze, a Georgian. “My audience likes Trump,” he said. “I don’t want to write bad things about Trump. If I write fake stories about Trump, I lose my audience.” "Some analysts worry that foreign intelligence agencies are meddling in American politics and using fake news to influence elections. But one window into how the meat in fake sausages gets ground can be found in the buccaneering internet economy, where satire produced in Canada can be taken by a recent college graduate in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and presented as real news to attract clicks from credulous readers in the United States."

A Call for Cooperation Against Fake News (Jeff Jarvis and John Bothrick, Medium.com, 11-18-16) Constructive suggestions for what the platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, Apple News, and others—as well as publishers and users can do now and in the future to grapple with fake news and build better experiences online and more civil and informed discussion in society. In brief (a sampling, and even these make no sense without reading the whole article, so please do!):
1. Make it easier for users to report fake news, hate speech, harassment, and bots.
2. Create a system for media to send metadata about their fact-checking, debunking, confirmation, and reporting on stories and memes to the platforms.
3. Expand systems of verified sources.
7. Recognize the role of autocomplete in search requests to spread impressions without substance.
9. Create reference sites to enable users to investigate memes and dog whistles.
10. Establish the means to subscribe to and distribute corrections and updates.
12. Stop funding fake news. "Google and Facebook have taken steps in the right direction to pull advertising and thus financial support (and motivation) for fake-news sites. Bing, Apple search and programmatic programmatic advertising platforms must follow suit."
13. Support white-hat media hacking.
14. Hire editors.

Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds (Camila Domonoske, The Two-Way, NPR, 11-23-16) "More than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that 'sponsored content' was a real news story." "More than 30 percent of students thought a fake Fox News account was more trustworthy than the real one."

Fake News Is Not the Only Problem (Gilad Lotan, Points, Data and Society, 11-22-16) Bias, propaganda, and deliberately misleading information are much more prevalent and do more damage.

Design Solutions for Fake News (Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy, on a hivemind Google Doc). "We're in brainstorm mode."

Online, Everything Is Alternative Media (John Herrman, NY Times, 11-10-16)

How We Got to Post-Truth There's never been so much to read and so many readers—and that's part of a much larger problem for politics. "There are lots of folks who are not prepared for this huge onslaught of information and figuring out how to deal with that," says Craig Silverman, who reports on fake news for Buzzfeed and revealed teenagers in the Balkans were running fake news sites in support of Donald Trump to make money.
"The more obvious hoax news is fairly easy to identify and could be tagged as such on Facebook and Twitter. He also thinks Facebook’s algorithm could be tweaked to lessen the impact of fake news. For instance, if a story is being shared amongst a small pocket of ideologically similar users, perhaps the network could refrain from blasting it out to a wider audience."

Inside Gab: The New Twitter Alternative Championed by the Alt-Right (Cale Guthrie Weissman, Fast Company, 11-18-16) A dispatch from the new censorship-defying social network in the wake of "the purge" of alt-right users on Facebook and Twitter this week.

List of Fake News websites (Wikipedia)


  1. January 13, 2017 1:41 PM EST
    This bill #155 proposed to the California Assembly by assemblyman Gomez could easily be called the Media Literacy bill: AB-155 Pupil instruction: civic online reasoning. Here's the link if the embedded link didn't work: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB155
    - PM
  2. July 7, 2017 9:32 PM EDT
    How the Left Lost Its Mind (Katie Martin, The Atlantic, 7-2-17)The Republicans do not have a monopoly on fake news."The Trump era has given rise to a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure that operates largely out of the view of casual news consumers, but commands a massive audience and growing influence in liberal America. There are polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists.Some traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation; others are merely aggregators and commentators who have carved out a corner of the web for themselves. But taken together, they form a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light."
    - PM
  3. July 7, 2017 10:31 PM EDT
    16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won (Daniel Payne, The Federalist, 2-6-17)"Since at least Donald Trump’s election, our media have been in the grip of an astonishing, self-inflicted crisis. Despite Trump’s constant railing against the American press, there is no greater enemy of the American media than the American media....We are in the midst of an epidemic of fake news." "Journalists, media types, reporters, you have two choices: you can fix these problems, or you can watch your profession go down in flames." Here is one set of opinions about "The Federalist" The Federalist: Right Bias (Media Bias/Fact Check). "The Federalist is an English-language online magazine that covers politics, policy, culture, and religion. The Federalist has been described as influential in conservative and libertarian circles. Has a right wing bias in reporting, but is usually well sourced." (8/8/2016)
    - Pat McNees
  4. July 23, 2017 3:13 PM EDT
    Still more articles of interest:
    Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online (Downloadable report, Data&Society, 5-15-17) Samples: "By rebranding 'white nationalism' as the 'alt-right,' these groups played on the media's fascination with novelty to give their ideas mass exposure." and "Despite the existence of multiple men's rights groups, most of them have a reasonably consistent value set and ideological organization. Their central belief is that men and boys in the Western world are at risk or marginalized, and in need of defense." and "Online communities are increasingly turning to conspiracy-driven news sources, whose sensationalist claims are then covered by the mainstream media, which exposes more of the public to these ideas, and so on."
    • • Why a divided America has united against the media (Gillian Tett, Financial Times Magazine, 7-14-17) Fake news is seeping into the mainstream press on occasion, partly because it makes such compelling clickbait (to understand how this works, take a look at a brilliant study from New York’s Data & Society project on “alt-right” groups such as 8/chan (see previous link).
    Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear Danah Boyd, Wired, 3-27-17) "That’s the beauty of provocative speech: It makes people think not simply by shoving an idea down their throats, but inviting them to connect the dots."
    How do you deal with a problem like “fake news?” (Robyn Caplan, Points, Data&Society, 1-5-17) "[Fake news] consists of misleading headlines, deceptive edits, consensus-based truthmaking in communities like reddit or 8chan (i.e. pizzagate), or by the absorption of fake news by political figures, like Donald Trump, who have the power to make fake news newsworthy."
    - Pat McNees
  5. July 23, 2017 3:44 PM EDT
    See also Trump's War on "Fake News" Is Chillingly Real (Mark Follman, Mother Jones, 4-29-17) Dismissing his petty, hostile attacks on the media could be dangerous. Not too long ago, it was about as interesting and informative to tune into CNN as it was to watch a home shopping channel. But even though the cable network has shamelessly used duplicitous Trump surrogates to juice conflict and thereby ratings for its commentary shows, CNN reporters and anchors have come alive in the face of Trump...But journalists can also keep the faith given what history has shown about this battle. “Four hostile newspapers,” as Napoleon once said, “are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”
    - PM
  6. October 1, 2017 5:19 PM EDT
    How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Down (Caitlin Dickerson, NY Times Magazine, 9-26-17) At the height of the 2016 election, exaggerated reports of a juvenile sex crime brought a media maelstrom to Twin Falls — one the Idaho city still hasn’t recovered from.
    - PM