OSWEGO, NY – Only you can prevent “fake news,” was the bottom line message recently from a panel of media experts.
The group made up of WRVO News Director Catherine Loper and SUNY Oswego communication studies faculty members Brian Moritz, Arvind Diddi and Jason Zenor, discussed “Fighting Fake News: Navigating the New Norms in Journalism” recently at SUNY Oswego’s Sheldon Hall ballroom.
Michael Riecke, of the communication studies department, moderated the event, which was sponsored by the college’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts.
The onus is on the “consumer,” according to the panel.
“If an article seems to be too good to be true, too crazy to be true than it probably isn’t true,” Loper said. “A lot of people will just share a story rather than take the time to determine whether it’s true.”
Things are “shared” in an instant these days and can travel thousands of miles, which creates a plethora of potentially fake news stories everywhere, Moritz said.
“How many of you think you can tell what is fake news?” Riecke asked. The majority of the audience in the Sheldon Hall ballroom raised their hand.
Then, he asked how many could spot fake news.
“I see fewer hands and I hear some folks up front say, ‘I don’t think so.’ So hopefully before we’re done this evening, you can walk away with a better understanding of what fake news is and how to spot it. And what can we do about it? If there is anything we can do at all,” he said.
What is fake news? Riecke asked.
“Defining ‘fake news’ is one of the hardest things we have to do; especially since the (presidential) election,” Moritz said. “It can be anything from what we traditionally view as propaganda (lies and misinformation) to I don’t think this story should be out there so I’m going to call it fake news.”
“Right after the election, there were stories out there that were completely fabricated,” Loper said. “Sometimes they were done for political purposes … sometimes it’s just done for ‘clicks.’ To get you to click on something so those fake news sites can make money.”
It’s becoming more difficult now to determine what’s real and what isn’t, she added.
“For me, it’s if there is a deliberate attempt to put out a false story for nefarious purposes – strictly economic or whatever,” Moritz said.
Legally, there is a fine line here, Zenor noted. Some fake news could be libel, he said.
However, Riecke pointed out that this sort of “news” has been around for a long time. Remember all the supermarket tabloids like The National Enquirer? he said.
There were times when tabloid stories proved true later down the road and beat mainstream media on a story, the panel said. That gave proponents of tabloid news impetus to defend their credibility.
There are things that resemble stories in today’s magazines; but they are actually some sort of ad, Loper said. They usually have a tiny disclaimer somewhere, but hardly anybody bothers to look, she said.
On sites, like Facebook, everything looks pretty much the same. So, you have no warning what might be fake, she pointed out.
A good first guide as to whether a report is true or not, Diddi said, is how it makes you feel, does it reinforce your own bias, do you want to believe it?
The president’s war on the media is not necessarily a healthy thing, Loper said, adding that it is damaging when people don’t know what’s real and what isn’t and who they should trust for information.
The panelists agreed that sampling news from a variety of sources can help readers discern what’s real news.
Loper said when she posts something she “takes responsibility for every word.”
Everybody that posts something on social media is a “publisher” as well, she said.
“Be careful what you post,” she told the audience. “Take responsibility for what you write.”
Transparency can build trust, Moritz.
If the reporter makes a mistake, it’s hard to come back and regain trust, he said. He told of someone who had made a mistake but came back with a correction that also included how the mistake was made and how steps were taken to prevent future errors.
“That idea of trust is a challenging one, both for the audience and for news outlets trying to regain it. Reporters are only as good as their last story,” he said. “But, they have a chance to redeem themselves every day.”