7.5

Evaluating Print and Online Media

Standard 7.5: Evaluating Print and Online Media

Explain methods for evaluating information and opinion in print and online media. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T7.5]

Newspaper_Proprietor
The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor, by Frederick Burr Opper, Library of Congress {{PD-art-US}}

FOCUS QUESTION: What is Fake News and How Can Students Become Critical Consumers of Print and Online Information? 

What type of news consumer are you— active or passive?

Do you check headlines several times a day or only once in a while? Do you read a print newspaper or online news articles every day or only occasionally? Do you watch the news on television or stream it online or mostly avoid those sources of information? Do you subscribe to email newsletters that provide summaries of the latest news (e.g., theSkimm)?

Many commentators, including a majority of journalists, believe that most people are not active news consumers. They assume that a large majority rarely go beyond the headlines to read in-depth about a topic. Yet when surveyed, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans say they actively seek out the news several times a day. They report watching, reading and listening to the news at about equal rates (American Press Institute’s Media Insight Project). At the same time, however, far fewer people regularly seek out commentary and analysis about the news (Americans and the News Media: What They Do--and Don't--Understand about Each Other, American Press Institute, June 11, 2018).

Whatever type of news consumer you are, making sense of online and print information is a complex endeavor. It is easy to get lost in the swirl of news, opinion, commentary, and outright deception that comes forth 24/7 to computers, smartphones, televisions, and radios. Additionally, there is the ever-present problem of fake and false news, defined as “information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news" (Media Matters, February 13, 2017). Tools and strategies are needed to be able to critically evaluate what is being said and by whom in today's multifaceted news and information landscape.

    1. INVESTIGATE: Defining and Combating “Fake News”

    Distorting information and distributing fake news has long been part of American politics.  

    Man Bat Portrait
    Portrait of a Man Bat from the Great Moon Hoax, by Lock (?) Naples, {{PD-art-US}}

    Link to more about the history of fake news:

    Sources of Fake News

    Fake news comes from many sources. Political groups seek to gain votes and support by posting information favorable to their point of view— truthful or not. Governments push forth fake news about their plans and policies while labeling those who challenge them as inaccurately spreading rumors and untruths. In addition, unscrupulous individuals make money posting fake news. Explosive, hyperbolic stories generate lots of attention and each click on a site generates exposure for advertisers and revenue for fake news creators (see NPR article: We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned).

    People’s willingness to believe fake news is promoted by what historian Richard Hofstader (1965) called “the paranoid style in American politics.” Writing in the 1950s and 1960s, Hofstader’s analysis still applies to today’s world of hyper-charged social media and television programming.

    In Hoftstader’s view, people throughout American history have tended to respond strongly to the “great drama of the public scene” (1965, p. xxxiv). In times of change, people begin thinking they are living “in the grip of a vast conspiracy” and in response, they adopt a paranoid style with its “qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” (Hofstader, 1965, pp. xxxv, 3). Caught within a paranoid style, people see conspiracies against them and their views.

    Fake news distributed on social media feeds conspiracy theories while promoting the agendas of marginal political groups seeking influence within the wider society. In summer 2020, during a nation-wide spike in Covid-19 cases, a video created by the right wing news organization Breitbart claiming that masks were unnecessary and the drug hydroxchloroquine cured the virus was viewed by 14 million people in six hours on Facebook. At the same time, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, another right-wing media organization that reaches 40% of all Americans, published an online interview with a discredited scientist who claimed Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allegery and Infectious Diseases, created the coronavirus using monkey cells (Leonhardt, 2020).

    Fact- and Bias-Checking

    Readers and viewers must use the skills of critical readingcritical viewing, and fact- and bias-checking to separate false from credible and reliable information in print and online media. ISTE has identified Top 10 Sites to Help Students Check Their Facts.

    Finding Sources of Reliable Information

    Along with critical reading, viewing, and fact- and bias-checking skills, it is important to develop one's own sources of trusted and reliable information from fact-based journalists and news organizations. To gain an overview of the challenges facing students and teachers, listen and read the following text-to-speech version of Fighting Fake News from The New York Times UpFront (September 4, 2017).

    Here is a table developed to guide teachers and students in locating reliable online resources.

    Where To Find Reliable Resources Infographic
    Where to Find Reliable Resources Infographic by Robert W. Maloy, Torrey Trust, & Chenyang Xu, College of Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst is licensed under CC BY NC SA 4.0

    Where To Find Reliable Resources Infographic (make your own copy to remix)

    Media Literacy Connections: Critical Visual Analysis

    Focus Question: How can readers or viewers do critical visual analysis of news sources?

    Keyboard with word: Fake
    Image from Pixabay is under Pixabay License

    Activity 1: Critical Visual Analysis

    When critically analyzing a source or article, its visual content can tell us a lot about its trustworthiness. This activity asks you to perform a critical visual analysis of two news articles of your own. 

    • Step 1: Find an article you think qualifies as “fake news.” Don’t worry about justifying why you think it is fake yet, just go with your immediate reaction to it. 
    • Step 2: Find an article you find credible, preferably one that covers the same topic as your fake news story.
    • Step 3: Take screenshots of both articles, being sure to include as many visual elements (ads, page menu, bylines) from the page as possible.
    • Step 4: Perform a side-by-side comparison of both screenshots by laying them out on a blank Canva presentation, Google Drawing/Jamboard, or using a screen recording tool. 
    • Step 5: Justify the reasons why you consider one source is credible and the other not by. Focus specifically on the visual content of each article (page design, font choice, headline images, author byline, page advertisements), using arrows and text boxes to highlight specific elements of the design (refer to this checklist for help).

    Activity 2: Observe, Reflect, & Question

    To analyze visual or written sources, the Library of Congress recommends students and teachers follow a three stage process: 1) Observe (describe what you see in the image), 2) Reflect (discuss what you think it means) and 3) Question (record what you want to now know more about). 

    Additional Resources: 

    Suggested Learning Activities

    • Curate a Collection:
      • Find examples of the 6 types of fake news identified by researchers in the journal Digital Journalism in 2017 (Defining Fake News):
        • Satire - Commenting on actual topics and people in the news in a humorous, fun-filled manner. For more about satire, visit Why Satirical News Sites Matter for Society.
        • Parody - Pretending to be actual news, delivered in a joking manner without the intention to deceive, even though some of the material may be untrue.
        • Propaganda - Purposefully misleading information designed to influence people’s viewpoints and actions.
        • Photo and video manipulation (also known as “deepfakes”) - Manipulating pictures and videos to create images and sounds that appear real, but are not.
        • Advertising - Providing positive and favorable information to convince people to purchase a product or service.
          Fabrication - Deliberately providing fake and false information about a topic. 
    • Discuss and State Your View
          • In what ways does satire and parody differ from fabrication and manipulation?
          • In what ways does propaganda differ from advertising?
          • What is the purpose of each type of fake news? 
          • Which of these 6 types of fake news do you think is shared the most on social media? 
                      • Do you agree with the findings of the Media Bias Chart?
                    • Write a Social Media Post  
                      • Have students create two social media posts about (one real, one fake) about an issue of their choosing. 
                      • Share the posts with the class. 
                      • Have students rate each post on how believable it is. 
                      • Discuss with students: 
                        • What criteria did you use to determine whether a news story was fake or real? 
                        • What features of the stories influenced believability (e.g., well-written, quality visuals)?

                    Teacher-Designed Learning Resource

                    Is It Real or Is It Fake News?

                    Use this list to evaluate the reliability of a news story you read online

                    1. What author wrote and what organization published the article?
                      What do you know about the author or the organization?
                    2. What seems to be the purpose of the article?
                    3. Does the article give different sides of the issue or topic? Or does it seem biased (Does it try to appeal to confirmation bias?)? Explain.
                    4. If the article has a shocking headline, does it have facts and quotes to back it up? (Note: Some fake news sources count on people reading only the headline of a story before sharing it on social media!) Please list a few examples.
                    5. Can you verify the story in a news source you know you can trust— like the website of a well-known newspaper, magazine, or TV news program?
                    6. Please use another site to check the credibility of your article?
                      What site did you choose? WHY?
                      Result?
                      Link to the table.

                    NOTE: Teachers can assign specific articles both real and fake for students to examine. Be careful, sometimes the URLs give them away.

                    Resources to reference:

                    Alternatively, students could review the information literacy frameworks below and then generate their own rubric for evaluating different type of sources (e.g., news, images, videos, podcasts):

                    Online Resources for Detecting Fake and False News

                    2. UNCOVER: Yellow Journalism and the Spanish American War

                    A famous historical example of fake news was the role of Yellow Journalism at the outset of the Spanish American War. On February 16, 1898, the United States battleship Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor in Cuba—268 sailors died, two-thirds of the ship’s crew (Maine, a United States battleship sank near Havana). Led by New York Journal publisher William Randolph Hearst, American newspapers expressed outrage about the tragedy, arousing public opinion for the U.S. to go to war with Spain (The Maine Blown Up, New York Times article from February 15, 1898). 

                    New_York_Journal_1898

                    O caso Maine na Prensa Amarela USA, by New York Journal, Public Domain
                    Front Page from the New York Journal, February 17, 1898

                    A subsequent naval court of inquiry concluded that the ship was destroyed by a submerged mine, which may or may not have been intentional. Most recent historical research suggests the cause of the explosion was an accidental fire in the ship’s coal bunker. No one is certain what actually happened. Still, fueled by the sensational yellow journalism headlines and news stories, the United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898. That war resulted in the United States acquiring the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico as territories and launching America as a global power.  

                    Explosion_of_the_Maine
                    Explosion of the Maine, Library of Congress, Public Domain

                    You can learn more anout the course and consequences of the Spanish-American War on the resourcesforhistoryteachers wiki page: America's Role in World Affairs.

                    Suggested Learning Activities

                    • Assess the Historical Impact
                      • Review:
                      • Discuss: 
                        • How did yellow journalism create a climate of support for the Spanish-American War?
                        • How did yellow journalism impact people’s emotions and thoughts?  
                        • What propaganda techniques did William Randolph Hearst use to create public support for war?  
                        • What examples of yellow journalism can be found in the media today?
                      • Write a Yellow Journalism Style News Article
                        • Compose a yellow journalism article about a current topic or issue in the news.
                        • Include a headline and an image that appropriately fits the topic.
                        • Have the class vote on a title for the newspaper.
                        • Put the articles together in a digital format using LucidPress or Google Docs.
                      • Analyze a Source
                        • Select an article from the National Enquirer or a similar tabloid magazine and identify how the article is an example of yellow journalism.  

                      3. ENGAGE: How Can Students Use Fact Checking to Evaluate the Credibility of News?

                      Why is there an abundance of fake and false news? One clear answer is that creating fake news is both easy and profitable. The Center for Information Technology & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara listed simple steps to creating a fake news factory: 

                      1. Create a Fake News Site: Register a domain name and purchase a web host for a fake news site (this is relatively inexpensive to do). Choose a name close to that of a legitimate site (called “typosquatting” as in Voogle.com for people who mistype Google.com). Many people may end up on the fake news site just by mistyping the name of a real news site. 
                      2. Steal Content: Write false content or simply copy and paste false material from other sites, like the Onion or Buzzfeed. 
                      3. Sell Advertising: To make money (in some cases lots of money) from fake news, sell advertising on the site. This can be done through the web hosting platform or with tools like Google Ads.
                      4. Spread via Social Media: Create fake social media profiles that share the posts and post articles in existing groups, like "Donald Trump For President 2020!!!"
                      5. Repeat: "The fake news factory model is so successful because it can be easily replicated, streamlined, and requires very little expertise to operate. Clicks and attention are all that matter, provided you can get the right domain name, hosting service, stolen content, and social media spread" (CITS, 2020, para. 21). 

                      While there is much fake news online, it is shared by a very small number of people. Looking at the 2016 Presidential election, researchers found that less than 0.1% of Twitter users accounted for sharing nearly 80% of fake and false news during the 2016 election (Grinberg, et. al., 2019). Interestingly, those over 65-years-old and those with conservative political views shared considerably more fake news on social media than members of younger age groups (Guess, Nagler & Tucker, 2019).

                      Media Bias Word Mark
                      Media Bias/Fact Check Wordmark/Public Domain

                      Fact checking

                      Happening both online and in-print, fact checking involves examining the accuracy of claims made by politicians and political groups and correcting them when the statements are proven wrong. News and social media organizations now devote extensive resources fact checking. One report, the Duke University Reporters' Lab Census, 2020, lists some 290 fact-checking organizations around the world. Yet, even though statements made by individuals or organizations are evaluated by journalists and experts, final decisions about truth and accuracy are left to readers and viewers. Given the enormous amount of fake and false information generated every day, fact checking has become an essential responsibility for all citizens, including students and teachers, who want to discover what is factual and what is not.

                      Sign-up for The Washington Post Fact Checker here.

                      Access CNN Politics Facts First here

                      Access FactCheck.org here

                      Sam Wineburg (2017) and his colleagues at Stanford University contend that while most of us read vertically (that is, we stay within an article to determine is reliability), fact checkers read laterally (that is, they go beyond the article they are reading to ascertain its accuracy). Using computers, human fact checkers open multiple tabs and use split screens to cross-check the information using different sources. Freed from the confines of a single article, fact checkers can quickly obtain wider, more critically informed perspectives by examining multiple sources.

                      The importance of fact-checking raises the question of whether social media companies should engage in fact-checking the political and government-related content posted on their platforms. Proponents of social media company fact-checking contend that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and others have resources to uncover false and misleading information that everyday citizens do not. Still, social medai companies have been reluctant to comment on the accuracy of content in their sites.

                      President Trump's Tweet
                      President Trump's Tweet, May 26 2020

                      On May 26, 2020 however, Twitter for the first time fact-checked tweets about mail-in voting made by President Donald Trump (MIT Technology Review). Trump claimed that California's plans for voting by mail would be "substantially fraudlent." Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey responded that the President's remarks violated the company's civic integrity policy, stating that the tweets "contain potentially misleading information about voting processes." Twitter posted a "Get the Facts about Mail-In Ballots" label next to the tweets and included a link to summary of false claims and responses by fact-checkers.

                      Two days later after nights of rioting and protests in cities around the country following the death of an African American man in police custody in Minneapolis, the President tweeted "when the lotting starts, the shooting starts." Twitter prevented users from viewing that Presidential tweet without first reading a warning that the President's remarks violated a company rule about glorifying violence. It was the first time Twitter had applied such a warning to a public figure's tweets, but did not ban the President from the site because of the importance of remarks by any important political leader (Conger, 2020). 

                      Twitter's actions unleashed a storm of controversy with supporters of the President claiming the company was infringing on first amendment rights of free speech. Trump himself issued an executive order intending to limit legal protections afforded tech companies. Supporters of Twitter's actions saw the labeling as an example of responsible journalism in which people were urged to find out more information for themselves before deciding the accuracy of the President's claims. There is more on debates surrounding th role of social media companies in dealing with misinformation in the Engage module for Topic 7/Standard 6.

                      Suggested Learning Activities

                      • Compare and Contrast:  Fact Checking Sites and Tools
                        • Practice Fact Checking
                          • Investigate online or in-print articles on a topic or an issue and explain your judgments about what is accurate and not accurate in these publications.  
                        • Learn Online
                          • Play Newsfeed Defenders from iCivics
                            • This online game teaches students to uncover deceptive and false online claims.

                            Online Resources for Fake News & Fact Checking

                            Standard 7.5 Conclusion

                            This standard’s INVESTIGATE examined fake news - information that creators KNOWS is untrue, but which they portray as fair and factual. UNCOVER showed that fake news is not new in this century or the current political divide in the country, featuring examples including Benjamin Franklin’s propaganda during the American Revolution, efforts to sell newspapers during The Great Moon Hoax of 1835, the use of yellow journalism in the form of exaggerated reporting and sensationalism in the Spanish-American War, and present-day disinformation and hoax websites. ENGAGE asked how online Fact Checkers can serve as technology-based tools that students and teachers can use to distinguish credible from unreliable materials.