Fake news: a concept that’s been around for more than 200 years. Whether it’s floating around on your Facebook timeline or being shared with you via Twitter, it’s everywhere and many don’t even know what to believe anymore.
As someone who’s covered the White House, Justice Department, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other organizations in Washington, as well as covered economic and general news from postings in Philadelphia and Stockholm, Sweden, North American Managing Editor of Thomson Reuters Randall Mikkelsen knows fake news when he sees it.
On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the University of Minnesota graduate shared his knowledge of the topic to a crowd in the Mountain View Room of the L.P. Young Student Center in observance of Constitution Day, and all the seats were nearly filled.
On Sept. 17, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled in Philadelphia and signed the U.S. Constitution; all educational institutions receiving federal funding are supposed to have an observance of the document, and inviting Mikkelsen to KSC was the perfect way to do so.
Journalism, Multimedia and Public Relations (JMPR) Department Chair and Associate Professor Chad Nye said, “The freedoms of speech and of the press established in the First Amendment are at the heart of what our JMPR students do and what our JMPR faculty teach every day…They are also vital to our future as a nation. Constitution Day is a wonderful vehicle for doing that.”
Now, the question many are asking themselves and others: what really is fake news?
Mikkelsen defines it as information that is biased, misleading, deliberately false, typically spread via social media and does not just relate to politics; fake news can be portrayed in any number of subjects. But what about news that’s deliberately misleading, but technically not false? It’s all a part of the same phenomenon, Mikkelsen said.
The award-winning journalist highlighted one 18-year-old teen from the Republic of Macedonia who told NBC News of his own fake news ploy, where he made thousands of dollars every month for “cranking out fake news stories for a site.”
Dimitri, who asked NBC news not to use his real name, comes from a small town where the average annual wage is about $4,800, according to NBC News. In the past six months, he’s made just about $60,000, more than his own parents, all by posting “sensationalist and often baseless articles” to Facebook, earning him loads of cash.
The method behind the madness? Clickbait advertising, which Mikkelsen said consists of phrases such as, “Wow,” “Oh my god” and “Breaking News” and often appear in capital letters in headlines of articles.
These are often what you see on your newsfeed on most social media sites, and when it comes to social media engagement, Dimitri said, “Nothing can beat Trump’s supporters….So that’s why we stick with Trump.”
However, in addition to clickbait advertising, there are many other sources of fake news. Mikkelsen highlighted hype, which is when the same news company takes two different angles on a story.
For example, The Liberal Society published an article with the headline, “White House FINALLY Gives Kellyanne Conway The Boot, Are You Glad?” Then, on the conservative side, Conservative101 published an article with the headline, “White House Just Gave Conway The Boot, Prepare To Be Infuriated.” Mikkelsen said this type of news’ purpose is to stir different reactions, play with people’s emotions and look for a reaction.
Yet, avoiding these types of articles tends to be difficult. By using internal logic, Mikkelsen said, and reading through and digesting these articles all the way up until the end, there are ways to tell whether the news is real or fake.
Some questions he recommends asking yourself when reading articles from various news sources include: Is it the original story? How are the facts attributed? Is it written in correct news style? Does it acknowledge multiple viewpoints?
Additionally, he recommended using fact checkers, such as Snopes and Politifact to ensure what you’re reading is accurate and complete.
Before attending the presentation, senior John Piatelli said his definition of fake news was a news organization of some kind displaying a sort of false reality. After though, he said his personal definition hasn’t really changed. “It’s made me think more about the different variations that it comes in,” Piatelli said.
Junior Stefan Lazaro agreed, and said he didn’t realize how in depth and realistic you can get with it.
Although fake news is very real, Mikkelsen said what people really need to watch out for is people calling something fake news when it’s something they disagree with; there’s a difference.
Associate Professor of Psychology at KSC Stephen Clark said while he doesn’t believe anybody’s news outlet is completely free of bias, he does think some are more biased than others. “What I do is read a variety of news,” Clark said. “I don’t think there’s a perfect news source out there. So my response to fake news is to read a lot, listen a lot, [refer to] multiple sources and use my mind.”
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org