Event to uncover fake news phenomenon

Anna Lawson

After the past election, the idea of fake news seems to be on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Knowing what’s real and what’s fake, a seemingly easy task, has become increasingly difficult. Even logging into Facebook has become a risk, due to the looming fear of being fooled by fake news.

Tonight, however, students will be given the opportunity to learn how to navigate the media world, without a fear of fake news. The event, “How To Spot Fake News,” will consist of a discussion led by WKU professors Mac McKerral and Guy Jordan. The event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Downing Student Union.

“Anytime people get together to talk about important issues I hope it offers an opportunity for them to rethink their own behavior,” McKerral said.

The event, which is hosted by the Residence Hall Association, will start with a general discussion between McKerral and Jordan about fake news, and will then be open to a larger discussion with students.

a senior from Franklin Kentucky Jacob Holt, and the Resident Hall Association President, said many people feel a new civic responsibility since the election to make smart choices. 

“We live in an era where anybody can start a blog;  we live in an era where anyone can say anything on the internet, where all speech, in a way, is kind of equal,” Holt said. “Which is amazing, there’s never been another time in human history where that has happened.”

He said while this can be good, it can also lead to confusion and misleading ideas.

“In our current times, there are a lot of people that can identify words in different ways,” Holt said. “There is the dictionary definition of terrorism, and then our society has a definition of terrorism.”

Holt said he hopes the event will challenge students’ beliefs, and make them question what they see.

“No one is completely immune to reading untrue things, that’s just our society,” he said. “Everyone has a voice.”

Jordan said in order to understand what is real and what is fake, society must first have a solid understanding of what they know as well as what they don’t.

“A lot of fake news preys on the ignorance of its consumers,” Jordan said. “It’s not just how much you know; it’s knowing the limits of your own ignorance.”

McKerral said there are many ways for students to understand if something is legitimate; however, the problem is that people don’t question things, sometimes due to their political philosophies.

“It’s not a matter of ‘I don’t have the time,’” he said. “It’s ‘I’m not going to do it because this is what I believe.’”

Holt said it is every citizen’s responsibility to stay informed and understand what is real and what is fake.

“Our reality and our society is defined by what we know, by what we read, by what we consume, and it’s important to be a good citizen,” he said. “If you are voting, or making choices on things that aren’t true or even shades of not true, that can be a dangerous thing.”

Around four in ten Americans receive their news from online sources. Fifty percent of Americans ages 18 to 20 and 49 percent of ages 30 to 49 get their news from online sources, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The people who are doing the sharing need to be a lot more responsible,” Holt said. “If I send you a link and you think, ‘well, I’m the greatest guy in the world,’ then you’re going to be easily duped.”

McKerral hopes students will understand how easy it can be for false information to enter the mainstream, where people eagerly believe. However, it is important to always be skeptical. He said fake news comes to us constantly and in many different forms.

“Having some basic understanding of what’s out there, how it works, and what the intent is, is helpful,” he said.

Jordan said many things go viral because of “click bait” that preys on emotion, and everyone should be relentlessly second-guessing, starting at an early age.

“Old people tend to be more set in their ways,” he said. “If you learn to think critically when you’re young, you’re going to be more likely to have that be your frame of mind when you’re older.”

McKerral said it is important for college students especially to take news consumption seriously, and always be willing to look at multiple sides to an issue.

“I wish my students were as excited about real news as they are fake news,” he said. “Everybody wants to talk about the fake stuff, and no one wants to read the real stuff.”

McKerral said the responsibility is not only on the news sources but equally on the consumer. 

“Sometimes, lack of willingness to check things out, and also how our country has become so politically divided, makes that something most folks will take a pass on,” he said. “That’s just kind of irresponsible.”

Many times people only look at news sites that they know they will agree with. However, McKerral said this can be dangerous.

“People go get their news from places where the news is going to mirror their philosophies, and their feelings and their positions,” he said. “They aren’t willing to go and look at the other sides to try to find out whether they’re really in a good spot.”

Jordan said he always encourages students to question authority and ask questions in his classes.

“Having students that are willing to question authority and encouraging students to question authority, that’s a really good skill,” he said. “If a student is confident about standing up for something, that’s a really good habit.”

Reporter Anna Lawson can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]