Fake News: Separating Fact from Fiction

Almost every day there’s a barrage of doubt about something you’re supposed to trust: Us.

The news, the media; they’ve both become almost bad words in the last few months, making ‘fake news’ the worst insult of all.

It’s a name we’re called every day.

Those two words specifically have crept into the vocabularies of many Americans.

We’re trying to find out why.

It’s in this special report from the 9&10 News producing team, Fake News: Separating Fact from Fiction.

"I’d like to think, well, every member of the public is smart and would see through these things," says Dr. John Hartman, retired Central Michigan University journalism professor.

You’ve probably seen it, even if you didn’t know.

Fake news has been around since tabloids produced Bat Boy and Big Foot, but the age of social media and the internet has added fuel to fake news.

It helped pass off a picture of ice on the Straits of Mackinac as real. 

It’s simple: fake news is news that’s made up.

But it’s more than that, it’s made up purposely.

That purpose isn’t always good.

“The damage to society. The damage to school children when they find out the people they would like to believe in and people they should believe in are not telling them the truth. I think the damage to our society by this fake news, this blatant lying is going on by both sides, is something very harmful to our society, very harmful to our institutions,” says Dr. John Hartman.

Cadillac High School civics teacher Cody Mallory says, “Fake news isn’t new, it’s propaganda. That’s always been a concern. Whether it’s fake news or getting it from these different question and answer sites online. It’s always been part of the educational process, that weeding out.”

Maybe you remember it by what it was called in school: yellow journalism.

“Journalism has always been about truth telling. I think a lot of us, you know, I got into journalism more than 50 years ago to tell the truth, to disseminate to the public what is truly going on. So whenever there is a falsity being disseminated to the public, it’s up to journalists to step up and correct the record,” says Dr. Hartman.

One of the bigger recent fake news stories was ‘Pizzagate’, perpetuated big-time by Infowars and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

It was about an alleged link between hacked emails from former DNC chair John Podesta and a child abuse ring being run out of the basement of a D.C. pizza joint.

That ended with a man barging into that restaurant with a loaded gun.

Fake news, a real restaurant, with real people and a real gun.

How big of a problem is it?

According to the Pew Research Center, if you take ten people about eight are seeing fake or inaccurate news.

Five are seeing it regularly.

Four aren’t totally sure they’d be able to recognize fake news.

A little less than half of that admit to sharing it, whether they knew it was fake or not at the time.

Fake news doesn’t just fool adults.

With students’ easy access to social media, does that impact their concept of current events or if it’s skewing it at all?

“Definitely is,” says Mallory. “Because there’s so much information available to us at our fingertips that I think what it does is breed a culture of scanning headlines and not really looking in-depth at stuff. I’m guilty of that, everyone’s guilty of that. I had a girl, she swore that because she saw a video on YouTube that Walmart had some type of weapon storage under all the Walmarts in the country. She was very convinced of it. I don’t even know how you respond to that.”

It has teachers hammering home the idea that not all sources are created equal.

“Sometimes you see a questionable citation on a student’s work and research or something to that effect," explains Anne Koschmider, Cadillac High School social studies teacher. "Sometimes kids will come and say, ‘I read this online, do you think it’s true?’ I always encourage them to follow their sources. Make sure that they’re geared toward academic sources, scholarly journals, as opposed to a personal website or a blog.”

It’s also created a climate where local news has been lumped together with 24-hour cable news.

We have eight hours worth of shows to fill a day, not 24.

While we can draw on network resources, all decisions made on the stories we cover, absolutely everything we bring to the viewers of Northern Michigan comes from dedicated journalists right here at 9&10 News.

We work to bring you both sides of the issue, no matter how controversial the topic may be, because there are always two sides to every story.

“In fact, we used to say about journalists is that you were doing a good job if you had both sides mad at you,” explains Dr. Hartman. 

How do you spot fake news?

We’ve found some of the things you can do to spot and avoid it.

– Consider the source:  Is it a source you recognize and trust? Is it coming from a blog or legitimate news website? You may need to do some independent research of your sources to make sure you’re not getting fooled.

– Read past the headline: Headlines are meant to grab your attention, not embellish or exaggerate the truth. Fake news is more than just clickbait; it’s lies.

– Check the author: Is the person who wrote the story unbiased or do they have their own agenda? Are there other trustworthy sources to back up the claim?

– Check the date the story was written.

– Make sure it’s not satire, a joke or an opinion piece.

– Check your biases: Only you choose what news you get to see. If you only trust sources that do nothing but reinforce own opinion, you’re not getting the entire story.

It goes the other way too; fake news isn’t just news you disagree with.

Facts are facts, regardless if you believe in them or not.

After all that, if you’re still unsure about the validity of a story, contact the website, author or ask an expert.

Check out this list of fake news sites to watch out for.

If you think you see fake news on Facebook, here’s how you can report it.

Simply click on the upper right hand corner of the post and select the “report this post” option. From there, Facebook will prompt you to select a reason. Select the option that reads “It’s a fake news story.” Facebook will ask what you would like to do with the post. Select “Mark this post as fake news.”

All of us at 9&10 News work in this business for a reason.

Our crews are out all over Northern Michigan, talking with real people to get real stories that matter to you.

That kind of work still happens, and there’s nothing fake about it.

“The fact of the matter is, being a journalist is not an easy job. When you’re reporting the truth, sometimes you’re going to offend people’s sensibilities and people’s belief systems,” says Dr. Hartman. 

Mallory adds, “I think that if you don’t have faith in traditional media, that’s a scary world to live in, because where do you get your information then?”

9&10’s Katie Boomgaard, producer Chris Clor, assistant news director Dan Firnbach, executive web producer Karie Herringa, photojournalist Derrick Larr and executive producer Jamie Valentine contributed to this special report.