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Sunday, December 30, 2018

How to separate fact from fiction online

Many of the resources used to create this lesson come from the Research Center at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism  

"As a journalist skepticism is your job. As a citizen skepticism is a survival skill."

Source: http://www.grahamdidit.com/#/ice/
To illustrate the importance of fact checking I am going to share with you a story from 2015. It started when the famous record breaking 1976 Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner made headlines by changing their name to Caitlyn and going public with her story of male to female gender reassignment surgery.

A man named Terry Coffey posted this as his Facebook status.

The post went viral. Millions of people liked and shared it. Mr. Coffey had found the image of the soldiers using a Google image search. He didn't know who took the photograph or where it came from but he wanted to make sure the photographer got proper credit. So he did a reverse image search to find the photographer. What he discovered both horrified him and taught him a lesson. He immediately took to Facebook again to share his discovery. Below is a screenshot of his next status update. I will post links to the original story underneath the photo 

Like many people, Mr. Coffey posted an image online that appeared to have one origin and meaning without realizing that the real origin and meaning were in fact something quite different. Since learning the story, and becoming aware of the truth behind the image, I have come to see it used out of its original context many times. In fact, I just sat down now and Googled 'military bravery' and this particular picture came up on the first page of an image search four times. One can hardly blame Mr. Coffey for accidentally misusing it. Below are three examples of memes created with the image that popped up immediately for me:

Mr. Coffey is not the only person to ever inadvertently misuse an image. A few years ago, I was joking around online with a few of my friends. I Googled the phrase 'face palm' and  posted this image as a comment in the lighthearted discussion.
I had absolutely no idea, until a friend of mine told me, that this is in fact a close up of a statue from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum where 168 people were killed in 1995 by a domestic terrorist attack.

 I simply Googled the phrase 'face palm' and picked an image that appealed to me without understanding or caring about where it came from. Like Terry Coffey I had no idea that the image itself already carried its own important symbolic meaning, quite apart from what I was trying to express. In this way, images are appropriated, altered, re-captioned and re-purposed on the Internet constantly. It is often very difficult to sort out truth from fiction, but it is not impossible. See how well you do. Can you spot a fake?  When does an image make you skeptical enough to dig deeper?

What do you think is going on in this photograph?
Before you peek at the answer, write down a few notes about what you think you are seeing. Where are these teenagers and what do you think they are doing?
Click here to find out the real story
How close were you to the truth?

Class discussion: Can you tell if the stories below are real or fake?
Without looking them up, together with your group, create two lists, one of stories you think are real and the other of stories you think are fake, doctored or staged:

Found in a camera in the rubble after the World Trade Center collapse: A tourist's last vacation photo, taken on the rooftop observatory

Extremely rare black lion

 Has the photograph below been Photo Shopped?

Proof that president Obama really wasn't a US citizen:

Did George Washington ever say this? 
What do you think?

How accurate are each of the quotes below?

A photo taken from the window of a plane

How accurate is the meme posted below?

Pizza Rat:

Kentucky Fried Rat:

Man sues his wife because of ugly baby:

Devil's face visible in the smoke of the World Trade Center on 9/11

Photo taken during hurricane Sandy

Actual photo of what an iceberg looks like under the water 

Giant Rabbits bred for food

Construction Workers atop skyscraper

Man loses half of his brain but survives

Daisies mutated because they were growing near a nuclear power plant that had a meltdown

Share your lists with the class and your reasoning for putting each story in a category.
Now, I could tell you which memes and photos are fact and which are fiction, but the objective of this lesson is to give you the tools you need to find out the truth on your own.

Watch the video below: How to separate fact and fiction online. As an alternative to watching the video as a class, your group can instead read and discuss this article on how to distinguish fact or fiction by clicking here. 

As you are watching or reading, list all of the online tools that are used in order to research the news stories that are discussed.

Turn and talk with your group: 
How can you apply these research tools in your own life, as a consumer of news? As a student? As a content creator?
What do you think your responsibilities are as content creators? How important is truthfulness in media?
On chart paper, create a poster that show your group's responses.

You will be using the accuracy checklist below for your next assignment:

Barbara Gray, Associate Professor and Chief Librarian at CUNY J-School
Compiled with tips from Dody Tsiantar - CUNY J-School Professor, Steve Buttry’s Accuracy Checklist which builds on Craig Silverman’s Regret the Error Accuracy Checklist, and books by Brooke Borel and Sarah Smith

There's "no other job where you get paid to tell the truth...we are detectives for the people." 

Be Skeptical - it’s your job. Assume you are wrong.

Write fast, fact check slow (Thanks Joanna Hernandez): Create a habit to get your brain out of
writing mode, and into fact-checking mode.

Get physical with your story! Print it out in a larger and different font.
Go through every sentence and every fact.

Read it aloud, working from the bottom up, to make sure you catch anything you missed, like
spellcheck errors.

Check all names (business card, phone call, email), titles, place names. Ask people to spell their name, write it out yourself in block letters, then show it to them to confirm you got the spelling correct.
Check all statistics. When someone cites numbers, ask for (and check) the original source.

Check references to time, distance, date, season, location.

Check physical descriptions.

Double check quotations with your own notes. Check facts within quotes.

Check any argument or narrative that depends on fact.

Check historical facts.

Avoid superlatives like: “only,” “first” and “most.” 

Check all statistics. Be careful of mixing up “millions” and “billions.” When someone cites numbers,
ask for (and check) the original source.

Is this an authoritative source? Ask source “how do you know that?” Ask yourself:
  •  Who says?
  • “How do they know?”
  • “Are they biased?”
  • “What don’t I know?”

Are you assuming anything?

Update, update, update! For instance, if you’re reporting on a crime story, make sure you refer to
the latest status of the case - have they been convicted, acquitted?

Check the context, in case your editor inadvertently edits in errors.

Always give attribution, be transparent about where you got your info.

Smell test/gut check: does this seem unbelievable to you?

Keep good records (physical or electronic): 
  • Keep your notes.
  • Capture snapshots of webpages and articles you use as sources on Evernote.
  • Keep a list of databases searched (including clip searches), and search results you used in reporting. 
  • List all sources. 
  • List statistics used and where you found them, etc.

Assignment: Blue Feed, Red Feed, pop your news feed bubble, from the Wall Street Journal.
We all have biases. We all have opinions. Try this exercise by examining your own biases on controversial issues: 

A Democratic Senator from Virginia is claiming that the Trump administration is responsible for 1,500 lost immigrant children. Do you think this is accurate?

 The president is claiming that he is following a law written by Democrats that is resulting in immigrant parents being separated from their children at the border. Do you think this is accurate?

Please form your opinion before scrolling down.

Drum roll...

As it turns out, neither the senator nor the president is actually being accurate.

We can learn a lot about ourselves by examining which of the two claims we wanted to believe was true. 
Do you think your own personal political ideology and your opinions on politics influenced which quote you were more likely to believe? Try the following exercise:

"Blue Feed, Red Feed. See Liberal Facebook and Conservative Facebook, Side by Side"

"Facebook’s role in providing Americans with political news has never been stronger—or more controversial. Scholars worry that the social network can create “echo chambers,” where users see posts only from like-minded friends and media sources. Facebook encourages users to “keep an open mind” by seeking out posts that don’t appear in their feeds.
To demonstrate how reality may differ for different Facebook users, The Wall Street Journal created two feeds, one “blue” and the other “red.” If a source appears in the red feed, a majority of the articles shared from the source were classified as “very conservatively aligned” in a large 2015 Facebook study. For the blue feed, a majority of each source’s articles aligned “very liberal.” These aren't intended to resemble actual individual news feeds. Instead, they are rare side-by-side looks at real conversations from different perspectives.
To begin, click on a topic. Be forewarned: These Facebook posts do not represent the reporting or opinion of The Wall Street Journal, and are not verified, edited or endorsed in any way."

Assignment: Follow the link below. Together with your group, select a polarizing topic (by clicking) and then click on the red feed. Find and bookmark an article that seems suspect according to the checklists above for 'how to spot fake news'. Next, find an article from the blue feed on the same topic and do the same thing. Remember to purposely select two articles, one from each side of the same topic, that seem factually suspicious or misleading.

Next, using the checklists above, list all the ways your articles makes you suspicious. Be specific. If you cannot find three specific ways (directly from the checklists) that make you suspicious, choose a different article. Since you are working in a group, you may split into teams and divide up parts of each article in order to get the job done more quickly.

Now, as a group, create a presentation to share with the class debunking both articles, point by point. 

Use the following links to help you:

Next, Read the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and evaluate the articles you have selected. How closely did the journalists adhere to the code of ethics? Where did they deviate from the code? 

What is the truth behind the articles? How specifically was the truth skewed? What motivations do you think the authors had for printing misleading news?


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