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In spring 2017 we taught two units on fake news in our GE writing classes. Some of the resources listed here were contributed by TAs who bravely made fake news part 
of the assignment sequence in their writing classes. This module includes a set of readings and resources, examples, criteria for identifying and evaluating fake news, as 
well as two writing assignments that address fake news issues.  


The first paper we assigned asked students to synthesize discussions of fake news. Some key angles for synthesizing texts on fake news were definitions of fake 
news, the history of fake news, the extent to which it is a serious problem, where it comes from, what causes it, what solutions are being proposed (especially 
by educators) and how/whether critical digital literacy skills can enable us to identify and evaluate fake news. Some  examined particular cases in order 
to explore one of these angles. 


Table of Contents


Introduction: Understanding "Fake" News 

Introductory Texts for Exploring the History, Causes, Effects, Definitions and Solutions 

Students were invited to synthesize texts that addressed one of the following areas: definitions of fake news, the history of fake news, the extent to which it is 
new and a problem, where it comes from, what causes it, what solutions are being proposed (especially by educators) and how/whether critical digital literacy 
skills can enable us to interrogate fake news. We started by reading the following short texts which introduce the issue and address these questions.  

  1.  Stoll, “The Long and Brutal History of Fake News” Jacob Soll, Politico, December 18, 2016  
  2. Fake News Expert On How False Stories Spread and Why People Believe Them” On NPR’s “Fresh Air” Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News explains how false 
    stories spread during the presidential campaign.  
  3. Reader, “How We Got to Post-Truth” Fast Company,  11.18.16.  
  4. Gray, “Lies, propaganda & fake news: A challenge for our age” BBC News, 1 March 2017 
  5. Caplan, “How do you deal with a problem like “fake news?”” Robyn Caplan, Data & Society, Jan 05, 2017. 
  6. How to Stop the Spread of Fake News: NYTimes Room for Debate” November 22, 2016  
  7. Meyer, "The Rise of Progressive Fake news" The Atlantic, Feb 03. 2017. 


First Draft news, a non-profit organization that provides "practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify and publish content sourced from the social web," was 
used by some as a resource for students. It has reading lists on fake news, definitions, a time line tracking key moments in the debate about fake news, and tools for 
addressing fake news. Here is the reading list.  FirstDraftNews has a "fake news quiz" to introduce the issue.  For a lighter, zanier and more entertaining examination 
of fake news, you could use professor Mark Marino's Fake news Reader. Along with large helpings of satire (likely to sail past most first year students) there are some 
great resources. 


Videos & Podcasts for Introducing Fake News


Late Night Comedy Videos for Introducing Fake News


Sample Fake News Stories from before and after the 2016 Election

A) What does the story or post say?  B) Does it seem credible? Why or why not? C) How can you tell? What criteria or tools did you use to determine credibility? 
Work through some critical digital literacy exercises.  Start with reverse image searches on the pictures on the stories. Examine who links to the site and where the 
site's links go. Who owns the site - what can you find out?  

  1. Private Email Server story
  2. Amnesty Plans Story about how Obama and Clinton are promising amnesty to non-citizens who vote
  3. Pope Endorsement (copy saved at archive.org. Images missing. Ask students to examine links, esp."About Us").  Story appeared on Facebook feeds like this
  4. Benton Strategy Group Leaked Report, "Salvage" Plan 
  5. Clinton Adviser Scandal (skim report, but look at the first 10 comments - what are they like? 
  6. Twitter posts by Alex Jones on Podesta "Scandal
  7. Election results 
  8. Now: are protests against Trump staged and full of paid protesters? (retweeted by president Trump)
  9. This timeline of key moments in fake news by the FirstDraftNews organization does a wonderful job tracking fake news stories and has links to key articles.   
  10.  The "Pizzagate" story (claims hacked emails show child sex ring operating out of Pizza parlor that hosted dinners for democratic party leaders.) A related
    fake news story led to a twitter war between Jake Tapper of CBS news, and General Flynn's son (and perhaps the strangest interchange ever seen between 
    a chief of staff and a journalist.) David Graham, claims "The 'Comet Pizza' Gunman Provides a Glimpse of a Frightening Future" (The Atlantic Monthly, Dec 5, 2016).   


Sample Fake Sites with Debunking Guide

These fake sites can be used for analysis. They come with model "debunkings."

  1. Army Sniper Takes Out Neighbor’s Home Intruder From Bedroom Window. Here is how the story was debunked 
  2. Over 30,000 scientists say 'Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming' is a complete hoax and science lie. Here is how it was debunked. For Revkin's comments 
    (and similar sites) see this sit
  3. Check the "about" link at bottom of global warming story page. http://www.naturalnews.com/About.html It says, "Website Affiliations. Natural News stories 
    are frequently copied and posted by other alternative news organizations, including Infowars.com, DailyPaul.com and a variety of other sites spanning subjects 
    as diverse as the environment, liberty, self-sufficiency and vaccines." The fact that Infowars is a major distributor of the site is a red flag.

Use the criteria from "Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News," especially the On the Media Checklist, or professor 
Melissa Zimdar's checklist and collection of fake news sites to examine the sites above.


Examples, Games & Quizzes

  1. This NYT article ("How to Tell Fake News From Real News:") has exercises and examples.  It gives these 4 examples (all fake). You could ask students to view 
    them and determine which seem true. Pig Rescues Goat  Worst Twerk Fail EVER — Girl Catches Fire    Mexican Red Rump Tarantula Missing in Brooklyn   
    Post a Facebook Copyright Status to Protect Your Information
  2. Fake news quiz from BBC and from from the Telegraph. Could be used with the Kahoot web site/game to do in-class competitions to identify fake news. 



Roll Your Own Fake News







Teaching Materials 


Rhetorical Stases - Questions for Organizing Synthesis and Analysis of Fake News

  1. Questions of fact: is "fake" news new, old, or does exist to a degree that is a) increasing, b) of significant concern, c) of particular concern to some groups?
  2. Questions of definition: what is "fake" news, and how is it related to other factors such as social media, the collapse of traditional mass media, polarization, etc.?
  3. Questions of interpretation: What does "fake" news mean, and why does it matter?
  4. Questions of value: to what extent is "fake" news good or bad?
  5. Questions of consequence: What are the causes?
  6. Questions of policy: What should be and can be done? What solutions exist?



Synthesizing and Analyzing Fake News


Collections of Research on Fake News

  • Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab conducts and tracks research on fake news. 
  • "Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action."  A report from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University. 
    This report presents a summary of conference presentations on fake news held February 17–18, 2017. The report is organized as follows.  "Section 1 describes 
    the state of misinformation in the current media ecosystem. Section 2 reviews research about the psychology of fake news and its spread in social systems as 
    covered during the conference. Section 3 synthesizes the responses and discussions held during the conference into three courses of action that the academic 
    community could take in the immediate future. Last, Section 4 describes areas of research that will improve our ability to tackle misinformation in the future." 
  • Journalist’s Resource, "Fake news and the spread of misinformation."  Journalist’s Resource has compiled studies that examine fake news and the spread of 
    misinformation to help journalists understand the problem and its impacts.
  • MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning & Online Teaching) collection of research and teaching materials on fake news 


Debates about Fake news


How Much of a Problem?

  • Stanford Study suggests young people have limited ability to recognize fake news.  NPR summary of Stanford study findings
  • Guardian Story claims fake news is spreading across many countries in 2017.  
  • The forces that drove this election’s media failure are likely to get worse” JOSHUA BENTON, Nieman Lab (Harvard), Nov 09, 2016. “Segregated social universes, 
    an industry moving from red states to the coasts, and mass media’s revenue decline: The disconnect between two realities shows no sign of abating.” 
  • "Why Students Can't Google Their Way to the Truth." Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew, Education Week, April 16, 2017.  This article contrasts the way "fact checkers" 
    and students evaluate news, and it argues that most students are poorly equipped to evaluate online information. The authors led the Stanford News project. 
    They draw on the same distinction Caulfield makes between vertical and horizontal analysis. "If undergraduates read vertically, evaluating online articles as if they 
    were printed news stories, fact-checkers read 
    laterally, jumping off the original page, opening up a new tab, Googling the name of the organization or its president. 
    Dropped in the middle of a forest, hikers know they can't divine their way out by looking at the ground. They use a compass. Similarly, fact-checkers use the vast 
    resources of the Internet to determine where information is coming from before they read it."


Definitions of Fake News


The Cause(s) of Fake News 

  • The Real Story About Fake News Is Partisanship.  Amanda Taub,  NYTimes. “… Americans’ deep bias against the political party they oppose is so strong that 
    it acts as a kind of partisan prism for facts, refracting a different reality to Republicans than to Democrats. Partisan refraction has fueled the rise of fake news, 
    according to researchers who study the phenomenon.  But the repercussions go far beyond stories shared on Facebook and Reddit, affecting Americans’ 
    faith in government — and the government’s ability to function.”
  • Klein, "Something is breaking American politics, but it's not social media," Vox, April 12, 2017. "...given that older Americans who don’t use social media are 
    polarizing faster than younger Americans who do, it’s clear that this is about more than whom you follow on Twitter...I have two main hypotheses..One is stuff 
    that has nothing to do with media at all but is structural, like increasing income inequality. The second is non-digital media, and cable TV and talk radio in particular.” 
  • "Fake news was caused by disintermediation, unfiltered information and media genres like reality TV."  Steven Rosenbaum,Forbes, Dec 2016.  
  • This Is How Your Hyperpartisan Political News Gets Made." Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed News traced a group of liberal and conservative websites back 
    to the same company. “The product they’re pitching is outrage,” said one liberal writer. 
  • Eli Pariser, "Online Filter Bubbles" (TED Talk). 
  • "The very real consequences of fake news stories and why your brain can’t ignore them." Nsikan Akpan, December 5, 2016, PBS Newshour. Discusses origins of 
    fake news, why it gets spread, and how it can be addressed.
  • "The Real Problem is Not Misinformation." Mack Hagood. Culture Digitally, Nov. 22, 2016. While misinformation is a problem, I would suggest that it is more a 
    symptom than the disease…For better and for worse, digital technologies are rechanneling and amplifying these aspects of human nature that we all recognize, 
    but have a difficult time integrating into our “infocentric” research models…cognition is always affective. It is essential that we identify and challenge digital 
    designs and practices that amplify harmful affective potentials.  
  • Why fake news stories thrive online, Judith Donath
  • "How the Internet Is Loosening Our Grip on the Truth." Farhad Manjoo, New York Times, NOV. 2, 2016 
  • Did media literacy backfire?   Boyd, Danah. Journal of Applied Youth Studies   Volume 1 Issue 4 (2017) 
    "Anxious about the widespread consumption and spread of propaganda and fake news during this year's US election cycle, many progressives are calling for 
    an increased commitment to media literacy programs. Others are clamouring for solutions that focus on expert fact-checking and labelling. Both of these 
    approaches are likely to fail - not because they are bad ideas, but because they fail to take into consideration the cultural context of information consumption 
    that we've created over the last 30 years. The problem on our hands is a lot bigger than most people appreciate"
  • Understanding and Undermining Fake News From the Classroom. By Adam Rosenzweig. Berkeley Review of Education. 


The Effects of Fake News






Solutions - Tools and Resources


Case Studies






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