Ask an Expert: Katie Cruger

Ask an Expert is PULSE’s brand new advice column featuring the perspectives of Chatham faculty, staff, and community members. In each column, our resident experts will tackle a new conundrum that they’re uniquely qualified to solve or, at least, provide insight on. In this first edition, Associate Professor of Communication and Program Director of Communication and Professional Writing, Dr. Katie Cruger tackles fake news.

Dr. Katie Cruger tackles the phenomenon of fake news.

Dr. Katie Cruger tackles the phenomenon of fake news.

In the era of ‘fake news’, what recommendations do you have for being a discerning media consumer?

Train yourself to ask questions. A recent study done at Stanford University found “a stunning and dismaying consistency” with which students (private middle schoolers, public high schoolers, ivy league college students, etc.) lacked media literacy skills. Most college students, for example, didn’t suspect bias in a tweet posted by a partisan activist group and weren’t able to differentiate between a credible news source and a fringe publication. So if you want to do better than most folks, you have to be your own fact checker. This is even – maybe especially – true when you agree with the underlying sentiment or ideology of the source.  

Luckily, it’s not just you and Google trying to separate fact from misrepresentation (though Google is a great start). There are great watchdog organizations and resources you can get into the habit of consulting. You can consult the Media Bias Chart 4.0 to determine whether a source you’re reading is the best one. You can consult FactCheck or Politifact as a quick shorthand.

Lots of fake news exists because of how most sites (both the high and low quality sites) rely on advertising revenue to make money. Advertising price, in turn, is based upon the number of clicks content earns. Unfortunately, poorly-written, emotionally-outraging fake news stories are fast and cheap to produce, and they result in more clicks. On our social media feeds, algorithms prioritize links shared by family or friends on your feed over content created by organizations whose pages you’ve “liked.” The burden must be on you to curate news sources with intentionality. 

Once you’re in the habit of asking questions, share your findings with others. When your friend posts something you’ve learned to be misleading on Twitter, kindly but firmly share what you’ve uncovered and do the work to replace the fake message with something of substance.

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