Fight the Fakes

Lecturer Trains on Spotting “Fake News”
by Liam Farrell | Illustration by Jason Keisling

What do articles about the flu vaccine causing an outbreak, NFL players burning an American flag in the locker room and Hershey discontinuing Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups all have in common? Not only are they all untrue, they were also shared millions of times on social media as fact.

That viral content is the basis of presentations by Alison Burns ’93, a broadcast journalist, doctoral student and adjunct lecturer in UMD’s Merrill College of Journalism, who is training people how to spot “fake news.” The term gained currency following the 2016 presidential election, when social media echo chambers and outright fabulists showed how vulnerable the 21st-century information stream is to pollution.

After running pilot sessions last year at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Burns brought her presentation in February to about a dozen middle and high school students at College Park Academy. Along with undergraduate journalism major Lauren Koenig ’19, Burns and the students talked about motivations for posting fake news, from profit to propaganda, and what everyone can do to battle misinformation, such as notify friends who share dubious media.

Burns is hoping to expand the training into places like senior centers and broaden its purpose into improving relations between the press and general public.

“We’re fostering an understanding of the role of journalism and the importance of journalism in our democracy,” she says. “There’s a lot of confusion about how journalists do their jobs and why they do their jobs.”


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