Navigating the Frenzy of FAKE NEWS

Issue: 
Chalkboard with 7 Tell-Tale Signs of how to spot fake news
Melissa Zimdars's (PhD '15--Communications Studies) seven tell-tale Signs of how to spot fake news.

Navigating the Frenzy of FAKE NEWS

Creator of a viral fake news list gives advice on how to recognize and combat fake news.

Melissa Zimdars in front of the chalkboard
Melissa Zimdars

Melissa Zimdars’s interest in fake news originally stemmed from being fooled into sharing fabricated articles in the past and worrying that her students might cite misinformation.

So, Zimdars (PhD ’15–Comm Studies), an assistant professor at Merrimack College, began compiling a guide of fake news websites she came across. She then tested her students to determine whether a news website was real or fake. They failed.

Since then, the list has expanded to more than 1,000 websites because so many people email Zimdars and ask her to analyze sources.

“I call it the continuum of credibility,” Zimdars says. “It contains everything from fake news to alternative news sources that are more trustworthy in order to establish the gamut of information we come across. It’s an attempt to capture all the shades of gray that exist.”

Fake news is a significant issue for the American public. A Pew Research Center study found 88 percent of Americans say that fake news has left the public confused about basic facts of current events. Through her research, Zimdars has developed two main tips to navigate through the chaos.

“The first is—and this always annoys people—is to actually read what we’re sharing and tweeting. Many of us do those things without actually engaging in what we’re sharing,” says Zimdars. “The second thing is to read as widely as possible. We have tendencies to go to the same places for information over and over again. You have to try and vary your media diet as much as possible.”

Zimdars has also been focusing on steps to combat fake news, particularly how journalists have to better deal with the conflict between the pressure of being the first source to publish a story and the integrity of publishing reliable facts.

“When my Google doc went viral, the first sources that reported on it didn’t even try to contact me,” she says.

Zimdars also stressed that journalists are not the only ones who need to combat fake news.

“I went to a media literacy conference and the answer given was media literacy, at a newspaper conference it was better news and better information, at a tech conference it was better algorithms. I think the answer will require all of these methods,” Zimdars says. “Companies like Google and Facebook are media companies whether they like it or not, and they have a responsibility to make sure the number one news website that pops up isn’t a fake news website.”

  1. Actually read what you share  2. Read as widely as possible