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Expert: Media Literacy Key to Avoiding ‘Fake News’

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020   

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- For anyone who uses social media, it's a fact of modern life that some of the stories that come your way as news are either partially or totally false. With the presidential election just weeks away, media watchers say voters can expect to receive a flood of news items featuring candidates and issues.

So, how can you tell if it's accurate information, misinformation -- or just plain fake? Kristy Roschke, professor of media literacy at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, said it helps to view what you see with a healthy dose of skepticism.

"There are bad actors doing their level best to flood those information systems with false information," said Roschke. "There are people who are wishing to skew narratives one way or the other. And then there are just a lot of confused people who are awash in all of this, trying to make sense of it all."

Roschke said the Constitution guarantees a free press and prevents the government from controlling what is published.

She warned that disinformation -- inaccuracy that is spread deliberately, especially about politics -- isn't just a harmless prank. It can damage democratic institutions.

She said while disinformation can come from an organized political group, a reputable-sounding news site, or forwarded by your favorite uncle, voters need to trust their own instincts when a story doesn't sound quite right.

"Is anybody else reporting this?" asked Roschke. "You see a picture of something that seems particularly egregious and you think, 'How could that be true?' If you Google it, and it doesn't appear anywhere else, chances are it's probably not."

Roschke said a big part of the problem stems from the country's deep political divide.

"When you read stuff that maybe doesn't fall along the same lines on the political spectrum, you can see the pieces that are the same in a left-leaning story and a right-leaning story," said Roschke. "That's where you can kind of get at what some of the actual facts we can verify are."

Roschke, who also manages ASU's News Collaboration project, says they offer a free online course on how to be an educated news consumer. Find it at 'mediactive.newscollab.org.'


Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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