Fake news, real people: What can we trust?

Olivia Gomez, Staff Writer

Critical thinking is the most valuable tool one has to combat “fake news,” said four Linfield professors during a panel discussion held in Riley 201.

The panel members, chosen by PLACE Student Fellow Micaela Lueders, met March 20 and discussed larger issues surrounding the changing definitions of “fake news.” Susan Sivek of the mass communication department, Mindy Larson of the education department, Jeremy Weisz of the biology department and Dawn Nowacki of the political science department offered insights from their respective fields.

All four professors emphasized the need for critical thinking both in and out of the classroom.

Nowacki advised students to evaluate every source they encounter and not to trust everything they read upon first glance. In this administration, the term “fake news” is being used “to deflect unwanted accusations,” she said, citing President Donald J. Trump’s attacks on the press. What people believe is real news depends on who they trust.

According to a report by the American Press Institute, people on social media are more likely to overlook unreliable news sources if the articles they are reading have been shared by their friends, Sivek said.

Students should be asking asking questions of their sources and looking into where they came from, Larson and Sivek said. When students only read sources that align with their beliefs, they stop asking those questions and thinking critically. Weisz stressed how students need to be able to form their own opinions.

Weisz examined “fake news” through a scientific lens and commented on how reputable sources in science are deemed so by peer review. However, extensively researched, jargon-filled articles are not always available or easy for people to understand. These factors can give science an exclusionary air.

Larson agreed, saying facts should be accessible for everyone.

For Lueders, who is a mass communication major, journalism is also a hot-button topic. She has had experiences in which journalism has been called “hoity-toity” and “elitist.”

Sivek said that has a lot to do with how journalists become established in the field and how they represent the public. Many journalism internships are unpaid, so only those who can afford to take a summer off are awarded them. This uneven distribution leaves journalists concentrated on the coasts. Sivek suggested that if there were more journalists countrywide that the news would better reach and speak to more people, increasing trust.

But how do educators keep students motivated to read the news when there so many negative opinions about the media gaining momentum?

“Real, good news is still out there,” Sivek said, and students should be encouraged to produce it.