Tag Archives: Fake News

Mark Feldstein says ‘Fake News’ Accusations in 1800s Far Different Than Today

Eaton Chair Mark Feldstein

Mark Feldstein.

COLLEGE PARK (3/2/18) — The Founding Fathers lamented “fake news” long before the accusation became a favorite attack on the modern press, but news organizations in those days did not strive for objectivity as they do now.

The narrative being propagated today by President Donald Trump and others is very different from those in the 1800s, University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism professor Mark Feldstein recently told Pacific Standard.

“In the 1800s, you had editors who were party operatives and papers written solely to whip up the crowd,” said Feldstein, the Richard Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism at Merrill College.

Now, some accuse news organizations of willfully lying to the public.

“That is a malicious, deliberate, demonic kind of falsification for political purposes,” Feldstein said. “That’s a relatively new and insidious development.”

Feldstein spent 20 years as an award-winning on-air investigative correspondent at CNN, ABC News, and various local television stations. He is the winner of more than 50 journalism awards, including two George Foster Peabody medallions, the Columbia-DuPont baton, the national Edward R. Murrow broadcasting prize and nine regional Emmys.

As a scholar, Feldstein has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals. His book “Poisoning the Press” received widespread critical acclaim and earned top academic awards for research.

In another recent interview, Feldstein helped Politifact fact-check “The Post” movie.

Feldstein told Politifact that President Richard Nixon was initially dismissive of the Pentagon Papers being published because they revealed misconduct by previous administrations, not his.

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles

Studying Fake News in Slovakia Transformed Merrill Student’s Career Plans

Lindsay Huth (left) and Tom Hart (not pictured) interview Globesec Research Fellow Katarina Klingova (right) prior to her presentation on Disinformation in Slovakia.

Lindsay Huth (left) and Tom Hart (not pictured) interview Globesec Research Fellow Katarina Klingova (right) prior to her presentation on Disinformation in Slovakia.

By Lindsay Huth
Philip Merrill College of Journalism
February 21, 2018

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA — Beata Balogová calls it the “emancipation of stupidity.”

Fake news websites propagate conspiracy theories, ones that confirm people’s fears by weaving disparate events together into simplistic stories, said Balogová, editor in chief of SME, one of Slovakia’s most prominent newspapers. And readers fall for it.

Like the United States, Slovakia has grappled with an onslaught of fake news stories, often spread through Facebook, that focus on heated political topics like immigration and national security.

Over winter break, I trekked to Slovakia with nine other University of Maryland students and two professors to study the country’s fake news problem.

We traipsed around Bratislava, the capital city, to interview young people about the fake news stories that pop up on their Facebook feeds. Those interviews served as the foundation for a piece recently published by The Slovak Spectator, the country’s English-language paper.

We made time to visit the opera, a medieval town and an 8,600-foot-high mountain peak, too.

But much of our time was spent conducting qualitative research: structured interviews with Balogová and five other journalists and researchers that were built to provide a broad picture of the media landscape in Slovakia. We wanted to understand how reporters there define, identify and fight fake news.

As we listened to these subjects speak, interesting comments jumped out at me. Balogová explained that fake news is cheaper and faster to produce than real news, making it hard to combat. Katarína Klingová, a research fellow at GLOBSEC, said Russia started to spread disinformation in Ukraine two years before invading Crimea, with the goal of weakening the country by destroying trust in traditional sources of information.

Michaela Terenzani, editor-in-chief of The Slovak Spectator, explained that fake news targets vulnerabilities entrenched in Slovakia’s history, like the view that Hungary has oppressed Slovaks for the last 1,000 years and wants to do so again.

I soon realized that nearly everything these subjects said was an “interesting comment.” I was fascinated by fake news, and I needed to keep studying it.

When I returned to the States, I met with my advisor and switched out of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Master of Journalism program — which doesn’t require a thesis — and into the Master of Arts program, which does.

I plan to write my thesis on some aspect of fake news, perhaps how a country’s political history — like the formerly Soviet countries’ relatively recent experience with press freedom — impacts the “stickiness” of fake news there. I’ve already begun discussing ideas with professors who study political communication.

And though I’d previously planned to head straight to a newsroom after graduation, I’m now considering work in academia or a think tank so I can keep researching fake news, press freedom and trust in the media. In short, this trip to Slovakia transformed my educational and career plans.

Why did this issue drawn me in? It’s interesting to see issues in the United States reflected abroad. It’s a complicated problem, too — a mishmash of journalism, psychology, political science and technology — that has yet to be solved.

In Bardejov, Slovakia, on the rooftop of the Basilica of St. Giles, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 1200s.

In Bardejov, Slovakia, on the rooftop of the Basilica of St. Giles, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 1200s. (Photo by Deborah Nelson)

But most importantly, fake news is a fundamental threat to democracy, which rests on the ability of citizens to ascertain what’s happening in their government. As Balogová told us, “You can lose democracy in a completely democratic way.”

To fight fake news is to defend the rights and freedoms of people across the globe. To me, no work is more compelling.

Editor’s Note: The author is a master’s student in the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Merrill College professors Sandy Banisky and Deborah Nelson led the winter-term program to Slovakia in January 2018 to research how journalists are combatting fake news and propaganda in the region.

Merrill College students Tom Hart, Justin Fitzgerald, Sam Luckert, Gabrielle Hernandez, Chiamaka Ofulue, Liza Noskova and Huth made the trip.

They were joined by University of Maryland students from other departments: Chris Eyo (psychology), Isabella (Izzy) Olive (government and politics) and Rebecca Shankman (criminology and sociology).

For more information, contact:
Alexander A. Pyles

Journalism Workshop Prompts High School Students To Take A Stand Against “Fake News”

Alison Burns

Alison Burns

By Alison Burns
Ph.D. Student and Adjunct Lecturer
Philip Merrill College of Journalism

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (May 31) –  A recent headline about Snoop Dogg grabbed the attention of a high school student scanning social media. It said the rap artist shot a clown who was dressed as Donald Trump. The student wanted to share the story with friends, but first did a quick online search to see if any familiar news outlets were also reporting it. It was easy to find the original source: a music video in which the rapper pretends to shoot the costumed Trump character with a toy gun.

That type of fact checking is the “new normal” for a group of Prince George’s County high school students who took part in a three-session “FACTS about fake news” workshop this spring.

As a broadcast journalist, teacher and PhD student at the University of Maryland, I created the active-learning workshop around the acronym FACTS with the goal of empowering students to recognize the value of journalism and make the fight against fake news their own.  Here’s how it works:

F – Facts about “fake news” – The workshop begins with a warning from the instructor to students about how a “toxic stew of misinformation” online is “threatening to poison their thoughts, manipulate and fool them.” Students watch a video from NBC News about teenagers from other countries who are cashing in by writing fake stories to fool what the writers call “gullible” Americans. The students read reports about U.S. intelligence agencies alleging that Russia tried to sabotage the election by planting fake stories. They also read research about fake news, including a report from Buzzfeed that fake stories generated more engagement on Facebook ahead of the election than real news. Students write their own definitions of “fake news” and work in small groups to discuss and list the potential consequences of being fooled by fake stories.

A – Assessing accuracy – Students watch a short video from Factcheck.org outlining simple fact-checking strategies: Is there a byline? What are other publications saying about the story? Do the sources seem biased or credible? Is it satire or a joke? Are the facts based on evidence or opinions? The students read fake stories on the fact-checking site Snopes and compile their own lists of clues that a story might not be credible. Among the clues that a story is fake (aside from being debunked by a fact-checking site): the headline is misleading, the author is anonymous, the site hosting the story has a name similar to a more recognized news site, and other stories on the site are overtly biased or exaggerated. The students discovered grammar problems, misspellings, and overuse of exclamation points are a few other telltale signs of fake stories!!!

C – Caring about credibility – Students watch examples of powerful reporting about community safety issues, discuss the value of journalism and write down what they want and expect in a credible news story.  Students create their own lists of “essential ingredients of real news,” including evidence-based facts, unbiased reporting, and a variety of sources. By establishing their own gold standard for credibility, students have a personal benchmark for news quality. They also discuss the ideal professional qualities of journalists and specify the virtues and traits of journalists compared to writers of deceptive stories, for example journalists admit mistakes and follow standards of ethics.

TS – Taking a stand – At the conclusion of the workshop, students write their own personal pledges to assess the accuracy of stories before sharing them. One student wrote, “I pledge to only share reliable news, and to never cite or spread suspicious news I haven’t fact checked.”

Student note : "I pledge to only share reliable news, and to never cite or share suspicious news I haven’t fact checked."

Workshop “Opened My Eyes.”

A few days after the spring workshop, students completed a questionnaire. All of the students said the workshop was effective. Among the comments: “it opened my eyes,” “now I know several good fact checking sites that I can visit,” and “the classes gave me more concrete ideas of what to look for when deciding if a story is likely to be fake.”

Students had largely similar definitions of “fake news,” including “misinformation designed to intentionally mislead the reader,” “news that is not true,” and “news that presents false-facts.”

Most of the students who participated in the workshop said they were very concerned about fake news because of its potential influence on people other than themselves, “because a lot of people believe that ‘fake news’ is real.” One student wrote “I’m very concerned because fake news can affect people’s opinions if they are unaware of the news being fake or not.” Another student wrote, “I am very skeptical of articles, so I am not worried about falling for them. I am concerned, however, for people who are less skeptical.”

Most of the students said they were very confident in their own ability to detect fake news, yet some had not used fact-checking sites like Factcheck.org or Snopes.

Getting the Truth Out is “Super Important.”

Nearly all of the students who participated in the workshop said it had a positive effect on their view of journalism. Among the comments: “I think free press is a founding principle of this country and fake news infringes on that,” and “The classes have only strengthened my previously held beliefs. I still think journalism and getting the truth out is super important because having an uninformed population is dangerous.”

The workshop includes elements commonly taught as part of a news literacy curriculum, including journalistic fact-checking techniques, a discussion of how to identify bias, and a review of the motivators for the authors of fake news. News literacy researchers have also emphasized the importance of finding ways to motivate students to care about the credibility of news content. This workshop not only encouraged students to recognize the potential benefits of good journalism, but also helped them discover the potential dangers of fake news.

Letting teens know how they’re being duped and manipulated is a proven way to get them to pay attention, as anti-smoking groups discovered in the late 1990’s when they launched the “Truth” campaign that revealed how tobacco companies were manipulating kids. Anti-smoking advocates and health researchers credited that campaign with a significant drop in teen smoking rates. Education writer Annie Murphy Paul urges a similar strategy when it comes to motivating teens to care about how their attention could be exploited online. She warns against boring lectures and suggests an approach that empowers students. “Although there have been some attempts to teach students ‘critical thinking skills’ with respect to the web, too often these programs adopt a  sanctimonious tone, with all the rebellious appeal of extra-credit study hall,” Paul writes.

The majority of students who participated in the workshop were high school seniors. Several of them suggested it could be more effective to deliver the workshop to even younger students who might be more likely to fall for deceptive stories online.

Future Plans for “FACTS.”

Merrill College researchers are hoping to reach more high school and middle school students, possibly by deploying journalism graduate students to deliver the workshops throughout the state. While expanding the workshops, researchers will also be exploring other ways to help students assess accuracy and motivate them to care about the credibility of news stories.

Even though the students who participated in the workshop generally seemed to believe people other than themselves are more vulnerable to fake news than they are, empowering young people to appreciate “good” journalism and play a role in stopping the dissemination of fake news is a boost for credible news outlets and a step toward a healthier democracy.


Dean Dalglish: #WeAreNotTheEnemy

Dean Lucy Dalglish at Main Commencement, May 21, 2017.

Dean Lucy Dalglish’s comments during the Main Commencement exercise of the University of Maryland, May 21, 2017.

Good Afternoon

I’m Lucy Dalglish, Dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Will the Merrill College graduates please stand.

The way some people perceive journalism has changed dramatically since you enrolled four years ago.

A year ago, none of us had ever heard the term, “fake news.” Credentialed journalists had not been arrested at press conferences held by cabinet secretaries.

A President of the United States had never declared journalists to be the enemy of the people.

But you… you are smart, ethical, and hard working. You are not anyone’s enemy.

You have learned to dig for the truth, report it fairly and correct your mistakes. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you do is not at the core of the American dream.

Citizens are relying on you to provide the information they need to make the decisions about how we will live together, in this complicated, glorious democratic society.