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News Literacy Week: Spotting fake news in a digital world

Spotting Fake News
Posted at 5:06 PM, Jan 22, 2021

CHICAGO — Social media algorithms can change what you see and how you view the world. Echo chambers narrow our exposure to differing points of view, and in some cases, it can overload us with access to false information.

During News Literacy Week, E.W. Scripps is partnering with the News Literacy Project to help provide you with ways to spot misinformation that’s meant to trick or mislead us.

In a time of instant information gratification, immeasurable amounts of data online are at our fingertips. Some say it’s both a blessing and a curse.

“The downside of that is it's very conducive to selective thinking,” explained Helen Lee Bouygues, a fake news expert, critical thinking advocate, and president of the Reboot Foundation.

For the last few years, the Reboot Foundation has been studying fake news and the misinformation ecosystem.

“What's the link between fake news and critical thinking? There's actually quite a bit because fake news is a bit of a symptom of not doing proper critical thinking," she said.

Social media has been a great boon to all kinds of activists because of its ease of use, but it also allows for easy targeting.

Bouygues says it’s different from going to the library to look up information. It’s less deliberate, and algorithms drive your choices rather than you.

“The negative side is you are naturally being tunnel-visioned, in terms of even the sources of information that you're gathering," Bouygues said.

At the same time, trust in established news sources has been on the decline over the last 50 years.

According to Gallup, that confidence dropped to its all-time low in 2016, with only 32 percent of Americans saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.

“There's skepticism even about institutional sources," Bouygues said.

Another alarming trend that compounds the issue of fact versus fiction came from MIT researchers. They found that false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories. It takes six times as long for true stories to reach the same number of people as false ones.

“People are not only falling into the trap of their cognitive biases, they're nurturing it via different channels of information gathering,” said Bouygues.

After President Trump was banned from Twitter on Jan. 8, researchers at the analytics firm Zignal Labs say election misinformation dropped by 73 percent.

Research indicates that the spread of misinformation on Twitter is attributed more to people than it is to bots.

Three things Bouygues recommends to avoid falling victim to misinformation, include:

  1. Avoid single sources of information.
  2. Resist clicking on the first links in your online search results.
  3. Familiarize yourself with common tactics used by some to mislead like conspiracy theories and trolling, which prey on emotional reactions.

“Ultimately, people don't want to be duped,” expressed Bouygues. “That's in our human nature, and ultimately, we want to spend that extra time to have better information.”

In a time when information is being weaponized, experts say it’s best to think twice before you retweet.