Speakers discuss media: Fake news is examined


Crea Jones

Attendees participate in social media activities

“Bots, Sockpuppets, & Fake News In Social Media!” Was a chance for students to learn to better perceive misinformation on the Internet.

Students were treated Tuesday to a LMC Library-sponsored seminar and panel discussion with two guests to the campus. Dr. Nolan Higdon. The second guest was Maureen Erwin, a political columnist for The San Francisco Examiner and a political consultant.

LMC librarian Roseann Erwin coordinated the event.

“The purpose of the event was to create awareness of how disinformation is spread through social media, discuss the current controversies over fake news, and share ideas of how to keep ourselves informed and think critically about the information we see in both traditional and social media,” said Erwin,

Erwin first gave an overview on the definitions of various terms that have been used recently in the discussion of news available online and in social media. Afterward, attendees broke into groups to evaluate social media accounts complete with a dashboard for each group to demonstrate how easily inaccurate information can spread. From there, attendees used what they had learned to discern what junk-content and fake news looks like on the typical dashboard.

Following the activity, panelist Higdon, a history and communications faculty member at Diablo Valley College, gave an expert on propaganda in media. Afterwards an involved member of the Media Freedom Foundation spoke about the correlation between propaganda and news, as well as the effects of media saturation and customization and how it affects the news that people consume.

He’d suggest that there are four factors that are greatly affecting the distribution of information online:

  • Entertainment Culture, which is used to get people hooked and watching their news’ advertisers.
  • Partisan Culture, which feeds into the negative relationships of political parties and affiliations.
  • A Fragmented Society, or the notion rather that social media has fragmented society, in part due to the ability of individuals to customize everything that the public encounters online, narrowing their viewpoints.
  • Ineffective Education Systems, which Higdon blames for not providing the general public with skills necessary for the media literacy needed to protect themselves online.

These four factors are the things that have come together to create a reality where journalism either can’t or doesn’t serve the people who are generally not equipped with the skills necessary to navigate a media-saturated society.    

“You can operate in a world where climate change is real, or it’s a liberal hoax,” said

Higdon. “Depends on what you want to do. You can operate in a world where Black Lives Matter is standing up for racial justice, or one that’s a movement that’s anti-police. You can operate in a world where women who are speaking out against sexual harassment are fighting gender inequities, or they’re looking for money and a handout.”

Next to speak was Maureen Erwin, a political columnist for The San Francisco Examiner and freelance political consultant. She gave a personal account of an encounter with a Twitter sockpuppet account. She described the account as contrived and enveloping of several pastiches of interest that wouldn’t normally overlap with one-another.

Erwin believes the reasoning behind these sockpuppet accounts is to seem like social and political outliers in the eyes of those who might come across them online. Doing this allows them to pretend to serve as supporters of one political but with a dissenting opinion that actually supports the other end of that political objective.

After the panel some visitors left feeling more informed of the content they consumed or observed on the Internet.

Communications major at LMC Luis Martinez, who was originally there for an extra credit opportunity for journalism and speech class, said he had a good take away from the event and was surprised by the rate that misinformation is spreading.

“I learned a lot more about how to spot fake news and how to spot things out and the activity was really interactive and I learned a lot,” said Martinez.

To learn more about Maureen Erwin’s work in the San Francisco Examiner, visit www.sfexaminer.com/author/maureen-erwin/

And for more about the Media Freedom Foundation (MFF), visit projectcensored.org