Panel informs on ‘fake news’


Photo courtesy of Emilio Gomez

Jared Davis , Staff Writer

How do you know this story you are reading is not fake news?

To help members of the Los Medanos College community deal with the current epidemic striking the world, the LMC Hrs Program sponsored an event Nov. 26 to shed light on the problem — Combat Fake News: A Media Literacy Panel.

With both students and faculty members in attendance, the panel tackled controversial questions and a variety of opinions.

Honors student Chance Nelson moderated the panel that included Professor Nolan Higdon, who teaches at several Bay Area colleges, and student reporter Aimee Casey, both of Project Censored, as well as LMC Library Director Christina Goff. The three shared professional viewpoints about the effects news outlets and social media are having on society through dissemination of fake news that seems to be almost everywhere.

According to its own website, “Project Censored educates students and the public about the importance of a truly free press for democratic self-government. We expose and oppose news censorship and we promote independent investigative journalism, media literacy, and critical thinking.”

Higdon, who is a co-host of the Project Censored Radio Show, highlighted the importance of media literacy and explained the roots of fake news date to the early 20th century. The term “Lugenpresse,” he said, was used in Germany during World War I to attack propaganda and made a comeback in 2014 during the German anti-immigrant movement. In English, “Lugenpresse” is translated as “lying press,” and fake news has now become a common refrain in the current political climate in the United States.

According to Goff, the rapid rise of the Internet and social media has changed news, journalism and how stories are told.

“New technology has made everyone creators,” she said. “People become information authors.”

In addition, Higdon said that the “Internet has allowed targeting for fake news.”

The panelists agreed that people love to be told what they want to hear, which is why fake news often targets emotions, making them feel like their own personal views are shared and common. Goff described this phenomenon as ‘confirmation bias.’

Social media exacerbates this problem because the friends you add to your accounts influence what and how much you are exposed to. And the more you see something that confirms your own gut instincts, the more likely you are to believe it.

“If you’re familiar with something it must be true, right?” Nolan Hidgon remarked sarcastically.

In a world where so much news is shared via social media, the panelists agreed on one key solution.

“Education is the cure,” said Higdon, adding that teaching more about ethics and the difference between fact and opinion is crucial.

Goff believes people need to challenge norms more than they do and “question everything.” And, she said, members of society need to critically analyze what they hear and see and ask, “Tell me where you got that information. Don’t just tell me, show me.”

And while Goff believes education is, indeed, the key to the problem of fake news, “I think it begins in the elementary school,” she said.

Studies show that learning media literacy at a young age can improve the way others handle information at a more mature age, she explained, adding that it is the groundwork for determining what will eventually become their beliefs.

Despite the fact social media is getting a lot of criticism for the spread of fake news, the panelists agreed it is not always a bad thing. Social media can and does have positive effects, helping people keep up with family and friends.

“The road to hell was probably made with good intentions,” said Casey about the hopes for improved communication at the creation of social media.

If you’d like more information about how to recognize and combat fake news, contact Goff, or any LMC librarian.

—   Jacob Mejia contributed to this report