Fake news has been in the spotlight in the past couple of months. We’ve seen outlandish hoax stories spread like wildfire, political figures Tweet misinformation, and “fake news” develop into a lucrative industry. Though rumor mills and propaganda have always been with us, the ease with which they now push aside “facts” in the public mind has made educators and journalists sit up and take notice. Teaching media literacy is more important than ever before.
We ask our students to stick to “credible” sources, but how easy is it for students to assess credibility in the current media landscape? A recent Pew Research Center poll discovered that 44% of American adults get news from Facebook. With numbers like these, it is clear that plenty of us are consuming news from questionable sources. Even when we consciously look to library databases and well-crafted search strategies to seek out reliable information, with Facebook and Twitter, news stories come to us and demand our attention. What we tend to see is what’s in our “filter bubble”— the stories that confirm our own point of view. We’re also more likely to click on, comment on, or share stories that shock or enrage, even if they have no basis in reality.
MLA Updates its Style Guide
By Rebecca Cochran, Hartness Librarian
If you aren’t already aware, the Modern Language Association has recently updated its MLA Style Guide to focus more on digital publications. The new 8th edition changes the way the Works Cited page should be formatted. In-text citations remain largely unchanged.
We will be updating our Hartness Library website to reflect these changes, and we expect that our database vendors will update their citation tools shortly. We encourage Humanities faculty to begin utilizing and teaching the 8th edition MLA in their courses. This will create more consistency throughout the College, and help alleviate student confusion.
Visit the Hartness Library MLA page.
You’ll find a number of differences in this new edition. A few changes are highlighted here:
The work’s publication format is no longer considered (Print, DVD, Web, etc.).
URLs are now encouraged for web sources, and DOIs (digital object identifiers) are encouraged when available.
Citing the access date for online works is now optional.
Page numbers in the Works Cited list (but not in in-text citations) are now preceded by p. or pp.
Volume and issue number are now written more clearly for journal entries (ex: “vol. 6, no. 3”).
The city of publication is no longer indicated when citing a book.
Find more about additional differences on the MLA website.
Fake news can be distinguished from satirical news, because while both may involve a combination of truth and falsehood, satire is meant to entertain, and can serve the purpose of offering social criticism and shining a spotlight on truth. “Fake news” is created to profit, either financially or politically, from the gullibility of its audience. Fake news sites can be cleverly disguised as legitimate-sounding news organs, with names like USA Daily News 24, National Report, or the Denver Guardian. They may mimic actual news sites more directly, adding .co to the web address, as in NBC.com.co or ABCnews.com.co. These purveyors of fake news range from the misguided to the opportunistic to the downright sinister.
Browsing news websites is a perfectly fine way of looking for reliable information, but students may need help distinguishing good content from bad. A group from Stanford University recently evaluated the media literacy skills of some high school and college students, asking them to determine the reliability of information coming from a variety of online sources. The researchers described being taken aback by students’ lack of basic preparation. Not only were students frequently unable to recognize things like native advertising and stories by political lobby groups, but they showed little facility with using the Internet’s own fact-checking capabilities. They were easily duped by information that could have been debunked using a quick Google search to look up authors and organizations, or to track a story via legitimate news channels. Even using a veteran website like Snopes.com to uncover hoaxes may not be a common practice.
In his New York Times article, “Googling is Believing,” Michael P. Lynch writes that the Internet “is both the world’s best fact-checker and the world’s best bias confirmer – often at the same time.” While Facebook and Google have taken steps to limit the ubiquity of fake news, users may still be led astray by stories that confirm their preconceived narratives. More disturbing than that, propagandists can and do manipulate search algorithms in order to push their results to the top and take full advantage of the lack of technological savvy among most internet users who are seduced by the ease of “information at our fingertips.”
Luckily, with all the attention this subject is drawing, the internet is now full of tips on how to better use the internet to find reliable information. Melissa Zimdar from Merrimack College has produced a cheat sheet that has been circulating online and was highlighted in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The public radio program On the Media has produced its own version in a handy clip-able format.
And, of course, your students have access to thousands of legitimate newspapers and magazines from around the globe “at their fingertips” through the Hartness Library. I hope you will explore these resources and encourage your students to go to them first, but since we know they will use the web as well, let’s actively encourage savvy news-reading habits and teach vigilance against fake news.
Resources: Breaking news consumer’s handbook: Fake news edition. (2016, Nov 18). On the Media. Retrieved from http://www.wnyc.org/story/breaking-news-consumer-handbook-fake-news-edition/
Cadwalladr, C. (2016, Dec 4). Google, democracy, and the truth about internet search. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/04/google-democracy-truth-internet-search-facebook?CMP=share_btn_link
Dreid, N. (2016, Nov 17). Meet the professor who’s trying to help you steer clear of clickbait. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Meet-the-Professor- Who-s/238441
Gottfried, J. & Shearer, E. (2016, May 26). News use across social media platforms 2016. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/
Lynch, M. P. (2016, Mar 9). Googling is believing: Trumping the informed citizen. New York Times Opinionator Blog. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/09/googling-is-believing-trumping-the-informed-citizen/?_r=0
Stanford History Education Group. (2016, Nov 22). Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning. Executive summary. Retrieved from: https://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/ V3LessonPlans/Executive%20Summary%2011.21.16.pdf
Additional Library Resources: Newspapers at the Hartness Library Our list of eight newspaper databases, including local, regional, national and international news. Links to good news websites are listed here as well. Have students start here for news-related research projects.
Our how-to page includes tips for evaluating information found on the open web, including a video tutorial, Credible Websites?