‘Exploring Fake News’ event emphasizes importance of critical reading at CU’s Diversity Summit

Fake news is a danger to the public and erodes their trust of the media, Pat Ferrucci said in a lecture last Thursday.

Ferrucci is an assistant professor of journalism, and gave the talk as part of CU Boulder’s spring 2017 Diversity and Inclusion Summit on Feb. 23.

“Just because something is on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s real,” Ferrucci said. He focused on how social media has a significant effect on the spreading of fake news. Fake news is false information and/or propaganda disguised as a legitimate source of information.

A well-known example of fake news is the article published about the pope endorsing Donald Trump for president in July 2016. The source, WTOE 5 News, is a fake source. However, the misinformation spread like wildfire on social media.

“These stories are spread because people want it to be true,” Ferrucci said. “My guess is that the pope didn’t do an exclusive with WTOE 5 News.”

Ferrucci suggested that technology is partially to blame for fooling readers. Creating fake news articles and websites that look legitimate is easy in an age where the internet, and the ability to add to it, is available to everyone.

Fake news often comes from overseas. Ovidiu Drobota, a Romanian Trump supporter, began a fake news website called Ending the Fed. He wrote stories about Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS and Megyn Kelly being fired by Fox News, both of which were fictional events. These stories were shared numerous times on social media.

This continued circulation of fake news has caused major distrust between the public and the media. The problem is, it isn’t illegal to spread or create fake news; it’s allowed by the First Amendment. One may ask, then, “how can people protect themselves from this false information?” Ferrucci’s solution is media literacy. “[People] need to look at media and be able to tell what is real and what is not,” he said.

Ferrucci listed key signs that show whether or not a news source is legitimate:

  • Social media ownership — who owns the news source?
  • Sources in the article — who is being interviewed?
  • Headlines — does the headline sound ridiculous or biased?
  • Bad Photos — legitimate news sources have access to quality photos.
  • Contacts — is it possible to contact the news source?

Ferrucci believes these signs help a reader decide whether the news source is fake or not, but he encourages readers to do one specific thing.

“We subconsciously seek out material we agree with. Try to get out of your comfort zone,” he said.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Maris Westrum at maris.westrum@colorado.edu.

Maris Westrum

Maris Westrum is an undergraduate student who writes about culture and women’s issues. She is studying journalism and anthropology.

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