No, Sandstone Mayor Carl Steffen isn’t really taking a position on Trump’s cabinet. But we bet the headline got people’s attention! Fake news has been circulating all over social media, especially during the recent election. And according to CBS News, fake news stories often out-performed the real ones. There are some obvious sites such as The Onion but less obvious sites such as MSNBC.co (the fake one, not the real one). These websites actually make good money by site visits, through Google paid ads hosted on their websites. The more visits their website gets, the more they get paid.
Many leaders, both conservative and liberal, have fallen prey to sharing from fake news sites. I have found myself falling victim to a catchy headline and fake news story. The problem with these sites is that they spread misinformation which is taken as true ... because it’s on the internet, right? And we, as busy Americans, don’t always take the time to check facts.
In the 2010 Minnesota State Language Arts and History/Social Studies teaching standards, Media Literacy came onto the scene. The standards focus on students being knowledgeable consumers of media and focus on providing them with the skills needed to communicate using multimedia formats. However, these standards fall toward the bottom of the list coming after more critical skills such as reading, writing, speaking and listening. And with the recent push forcing many teachers to “teach to the test” to better enable students to pass state mandated tests, those lesser standards may sometimes get pushed even further to the bottom of the list.
In language arts, students are required to determine author’s purpose for writing: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. Within those categories, students must look for author bias and what method of persuasion the author is using to persuade the reader and why. Students are taught to determine what basic mode of persuasion is used, whether it’s Ethos (an ethical appeal), Pathos (an emotional appeal) or Logos (a logical appeal). And within those categories, students learn specific types of fallacies such as the bandwagon approach (being part of the cool gang), slippery slope (the assertion that one thing will ultimately lead to another) or appeal to authority (because Arnold Schwarzenegger, or some other authority on a given subject, takes a supplement, it must be good) … and many more.
It is great that students, for the most part, are being taught media literacy. With all that said, the younger generation is still pretty well-equipped to navigate the web. But what if you’re not a savvy millennial? What if you’re older like me ... a Gen X’er or Baby Boomer … and weren’t taught these methods of persuasion that commercial and website authors often try to use on us?
Here is what I have learned to avoid fake news ... because Mark Zuckerberg isn’t going to screen anything for us ...
• Stick with reputable sites because they have paid professionals who fact check.
• Check the website address. Some fake news websites use addresses very close to the reputable ones. If it has an unusual ending, think twice about it’s accuracy.
• Look for a byline; if there’s no author, there’s a good chance no one wants to put their name on a story which will take away their credibility.
• When a report is using other sources, always try to find the root source of the information. Use a search engine with keywords from the headline to find the original source. Use multiple, credible sources to verify a story.
• Be suspicious of pictures. Not all photographs are real. Images are normally edited or processed to a small degree, but sometimes they are digitally manipulated to grab the reader’s attention (Carl doesn’t usually hold his Quarry Days Pie-eating Award in front of Air Force One).
• Use common sense. If the headline looks too crazy to be real, it’s probably not real.
A U.S. News and World Report story on avoiding Fake News links to a list of fake news websites on fake news watchdog site www.fakenewswatch.com. On this list are hoax news sites, satirical news sites and click bait sites. Many of these websites make the group they claim to represent look bad by sharing fake news stories. See site for complete list.
*Editor’s note: Thank you, Carl, for being a good sport and playing along with our fake news headline!