WSW: New Tools To Use Old "Fake News" Techniques

Feb 16, 2017

Credit VOA News, Wikimedia Commons

Fake news isn’t new. Western Michigan University Journalism Professor Sue Ellen Christian says it has existed “since the printing press.” But she says news, real or fake, is now highly shareable.


Western Political Science Professor Peter Wielhouwer says historically party presses were the dominant sources of news for the vast majority of Americans. He says the evolution of news led to ethics and standards. But Wielhouwer says now there are new tools to use old techniques to fool more people.

Christian, Wielhouwer and MLive Regional News Manager Mickey Ciokajlo will be part of a panel discussion Monday night. How to Catch Fake News Before it Catches You is hosted by University Libraries. It begins at 7:00 Monday night February 20th in the Lee Honors College.

What is It?

Asked for a definition of fake news, Christian says it’s not just news you don’t agree with or shoddy reporting. She says fake news is deliberately false or misleading in a substantive way. Wielhouwer says agrees that “it’s important for us to distinguish between news that is intentionally false, in order to accomplish some other goal, and news that is simply incorrect in the moment.”

How does it spread?

Wielhouwer says the degree to which people believe fake news might be related to personal bias. He says we have a tendency to seek information that confirms what we already believe. Wielhouwer says it takes extra education and critical thinking skills to be more proactive about evaluating information. Christian says people tend to have a “filter bubble” especially on social media, and run in circles of like minded people. Both Christian and Wielhouwer says there is also a monetary incentive to write and disseminate fake news.

What to Look For

Asked for the signs of fake news, Wielhouwer says look for headlines with lots of capital letters and hyperbolic words. He says also be wary of stories that confirms stereotypes you believe. Christian agrees, and says a reader should ask “is this too good to be true?” She says you can also look at the site and see the website of origin. Christian says location may be a sign. “Every bona fide news organization has a mailing address, and it’s not a P.O. Box.”

Image from Wikimedia Commons