FGCU Journalism Professor Tackles Fake News in BIG ARTS Talking Points

by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez

EDITOR’S NOTE: The tips on discerning between real and fake news presented by Lyn Millner originated from Stony Book University’s Center for News Literacy. Florida Gulf Coast University partners with Stony Brook in teaching news literacy.

Lyn Millner, journalism professor at Florida Gulf Coast University

As news consumers, readers have the responsibility to help tackle the “fake news” phenomenon which has solidified itself into society.

“We hear the term fake news thrown around, when really it is a way of saying that we just don’t agree with what the real news is,” said Lyn Millner, a news literacy expert and journalism professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. “That is not fake news.”

Millner shared tips on how to discern between real and fake news at a BIG ARTS Talking Points lecture Thursday, Feb. 4.

Fake news is part of a larger problem of misinformation, Millner said. She explained that information disorder is classified into three categories: misinformation, disinformation and mal-information.

Misinformation is characterized by unintentional mistakes, while disinformation is fabricated intentionally — like a conspiracy theory. On the other hand, mal-information is made with the intent to cause harm.

Millner noted the growth of the phenomenon can be attributed to three main points: the erosion of trust in the mainstream media, profitability, and technological advancements.

“If you think about 30 years ago if you were a purveyor of fake news, and you wanted to put something out there, you would have had to print your story, you would have had to have found a way to broadcast it,” Millner said. “Now, you just need to be at your computer in order to do it.”

The ease of it makes everyone a publisher, making readers the first line of defense against fake news. Millner shared five steps to becoming a better news consumer: slow down, follow the news, don’t outsource, watch your emotions, and practice good news hygiene.

“We can rely on journalism, if we interviewed the journalism,” Millner said. “You’re in charge of determining what’s reliable and what’s not, you cannot count on Mark Zuckerberg, or Facebook or Twitter to take responsibility for deciding what’s reliable or what’s not.”

First, slow down. With a quick click of a button readers can share anything, but a Columbia study showed that 6 out of 10 people share an article before reading past the headline, noted Millner. That’s why she advises news consumers to start by reading past the headline.

When reading look out for three qualities (VIA): did the journalist Verify the information, is the information Independent, and are those generating it Accountable. Millner said that without all three it’s not journalism.

Millner also encourages readers to “read laterally” which consist of finding a bit of information and following it to different sites. Remain curious, ask who is behind it? Is there evidence? What are other publications saying?

Next, readers should follow the news. She explained most people see news as incomplete. Slowing down their reaction time and following the news allows readers to complete the puzzle.

“The truth is provisional, truth changes as evidence emerges. Think about the planet Pluto, which is not a planet anymore,” Millner said. “So, things change, the truth changes with new evidence so, by following the news we’re staying open to new evidence.”

The third step is to not outsource your information — knowing someone is not a good enough reason to share what they post blindly. Millner explained that people tend to put their trust in the person who shared the information rather than the actual source.

“The person who shares a news story on social media is more important than the story’s actual source in determining whether readers believe it,” Millner said.” So if you outsource your judgment to the person who’s sharing it with you, that can be a dangerous thing.”

Despite whom may share a piece of information, it has to go through the same evaluation as any other form of information you find. Don’t put all your faith in technology either Millner shared. Despite there being technology set in place to help readers, it is flawed so you must use “the technology between your ears” to discern what is real.

She shared that the top searched provided by a search engine, the trending stories on Twitter, or the most popular are not always the most reliable. Especially, when ads look identical to a normal story — look out for the ad banner.

The fourth step is to watch your emotions.

“Emotions are often what stops us from being able to discern what’s reliable,” Millner said. “Emotions are what stop us from finding real news because we would rather be reassured. We would rather be told comforting lies than unpleasant truths”

Readers should be suspicious of their emotions and how they respond to a story — dig deeper into that emotion, look for the truth, and accept it. The truth doesn’t always align with what a reader may want. Millner suggested readers check out the News Literacy Project to facilitate this process.

Finally, readers have to practice good news hygiene. Sing happy birthday, scrub the information for 20 seconds, said Millner. Think before you publish, be responsible in what you share, and look out for red flags—writing in all caps, obviously photo-shopped images, or excessive ads.

As news consumer and publishers, everyone has the responsibility to weaken the spread of fake news.

“And finally, if you’re not sure it’s true, don’t share it, just don’t share it,” Millner said. “Because you’re a publisher, you want to think before you act, twice before you speak, three times before you post it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.”

Some tech tools to help readers discern real from fake include the Project Fib Google Chrome extension, the ad fontes media bias chart, and reverse searching a Google image.

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