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Afraid? Outraged? "Fake News" Could Be the Culprit

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Monday, July 13, 2020   

SANTA FE -- With the presidential election approaching, there's renewed concern that consumers again will fall prey to "fake news" on social media. But one expert on the topic says there's a way to arm yourself against the onslaught.

Nolan Higdon is a professor of history and communication at California State University and a contributor to Project Censored. He said the role of news media in a free society is to investigate, inform and provide a crucial check on political power.

He noted the coronavirus pandemic has been the subject of a great deal of "fake news" that often exploits people's fears and moral outrage.

"Generally, it preys on real anxieties - that's really the most successful fake news," Higdon said. "And who doesn't have anxiety during a pandemic, especially one where you see unemployment hitting 30%."

Higdon said he believes President Donald Trump's repeated claims of "fake news" and framing of the media as the "enemy of the people" have made a bad scenario worse.

Some communication watchdogs have called on tech giants to crack down on fake news and institute a code to address misinformation. Higdon said he believes, however, that consumers need to be more savvy.

"We really need to focus on giving the individual media literacy skills - that is, how can they sift through information and figure out what's true and what's false instead of the approach where I think we're going, which is we're creating lists and we're having corporations and governments determine what is true and what's false," he said.

Higdon said he also worries that media giants such as Facebook, Google and other large corporations have significantly increased their presence in public schools in the past 20 years as a way to get their content into the classroom.

"If we can give a bunch of slick textbooks and MacBooks and things like that to a school, it will look like charity to the public," he said. "But really, it's getting access to all the data for all the children who are enrolled in public schooling in a particular state, nation or region."

According to new research published in the journal Psychological Science, consumers are not incapable of distinguishing between what is true and what is false, but often share misinformation because accuracy is not a benchmark used when deciding what to share.




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