Getting Back To Basics: How To Lose Fake News In Three Not-So-Easy Steps

Entertainment news for the sake of entertainment, fake news, or alternative news is a broad trend that UVa-Wise political science professor Eric Smith says is on the rise.

Fake news has been a drumbeat for the national media with the 2016 presidential campaign, and all sides of the political spectrum seem to be accusing the other of spreading bogus news or using it to their advantage. Smith said that solutions for and safeguards against the phenomenon are not simple.

Smith said that media has gone through many changes since he was a college student 23 years ago, CNN was the main 24-hour news source, national and local television news television were watched faithfully, print newspapers and magazines were still booming, and of course there was radio. What all these media had in common was that the public had to structure their lives around their publishing and broadcast cycles” Smith said.

Eric Smith, professor of Political Science at UVa-Wise
Eric Smith, professor of Political Science at UVa-Wise

Even with CNN’s 24-hour news cycle, you had to be physically in front of a screen to catch the latest updates. They were also considered creditable sources because they underwent traditional editorial review before publication or broadcast.

Today, live-streaming video and audio, instant alerts, global connections are available within minutes on a screen that you can hold in your hand.  Without enforcement of creditable information, the danger of encountering false information has exploded. Smith said the development of the mobile device, in most cases, has led to a shift where his students use online media more often to find facts.

The internet does provide instantaneous accessibility, making it very convenient, but it could also facilitate bad or false information by design.With instant accessibility to news and information comes the potential for self-selecting “Smith said.

Social media sites and advertisers have developed different software to track viewing habits, scroll times, and what sites users engage

When it comes to seeking information or news, one may not always be able to trust the social media outlet, or online article that comes to the user as an online or social media recommendation. To tell the real deal from the fakes takes means online users must evaluate their news sources.

Smith considers himself a “moderate, conservative, realist”, and he and former president Barrack Obama offer similar advice when it comes to getting news from the internet and social media: get back to basics. The former president said, in his Ohio State commencement speech, that citizens need to be “dedicated, informed, and engaged”. People need to dedicate themselves to finding the facts, Smith said, which means taking the time to look in different places.

As far as politics, Smith recommended “The Economist”, “The Wall Street Journal”, National Public Radio, and the BBC as a starting point for one’s repertoire of coverage. Do not just rely on online sources.

“Go into a library and look at the journals, even if it is just to wonder around”, Smith said. Doing that will give one a wider perspective and awareness of connections between different subjects.

Be informed. Do not get trapped into reinforcing one’s own ideas. When searching multiple sources, one needs to have a deeper understanding of the sources. The magazine “The Atlantic”, for example, is about 85 percent left in outlook, Smith said. A source’s political and philosophical outlook is significant to remember when assessing the tone of its messages.

Finally, be engaged. Smith called the internet an “iceberg of information,” where one is receiving only the tip of what is available. Physically and purposely seeking out news or sources beyond one’s immediate gratification will keep the user ahead of the curve.

“It almost has to be a habit” to be fully and functionally aware of what is or is not fake news, Smith said.

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