Concord High juniors learn importance of checking news sites for accuracy

  • Heaven Taylor-Wynn from the Poynter Institute’s MediaWise Voter Project asks Concord High students to raise their hands if they had ever shared something online that turned out to be fake. Taylor-Winn was giving her presentation Thursday at the Christa McAuliffe School. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Concord High juniors Hannah Willette (left) and Allison Yanski wait for the presentation to begin at the Christa McAuliffe at Concord High School on Thursday.

  • Jake Kenneally (left) and Dominic Parker wait for the presentation to beging at the Christa McAuliffe Auditorium at Concord High School on Thursday, January 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Facilitator Heaven Taylor-Winn (right) and Alex Mahadevan from the Poynter Institute's MediaWise Voter Project asks the students at Concord High School ask questions to Concord High students at the Christa McAuliffe Auditrorium on Thursday morning, January 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/30/2020 5:57:05 PM

Eleventh-grader Dominic Parker gets concerned about some of the news stories he reads online.

“To be honest, yeah. Because you never know if it’s true or not,” he said, sitting in the Christa McAuliffe Auditorium at Concord High School on Tuesday. “And it’s not even as simple as, ‘Well, it’s either 50% right or 50% wrong.’ There’s like seven different stories of what may have happened. The mind battles.”

Like most other students who attended a training from Poynter Institute’s MediaWise program on Thursday, Parker said gets his news from social media sites like Instagram or Snapchat. These apps, which are used to share photos and messages between users, also feature news stories that can be commented on and republished.

And while these social media platforms can be used to connect and inform individuals – they are also often conduits for the spreading of “fake news,” Poynter trainers told students.

More than half of Americans say they have shared made up or false news, according to a PEW Research Center study released this spring. Most of the fake news people encountered centered around politics and elections and entertainment and celebrities, the survey found.

For example, this past week, Parker said he saw a lot of news articles celebrating former NBA star Kobe Bryant’s career, after he was killed in a helicopter crash. He liked those stories.

However, he also saw footage circulating online of a chopper spinning out of control and bursting into flames that was purported to be the helicopter wreck that killed Bryant. The video turned out to be fake; it was actually of a fatal helicopter crash in Dubai in 2018. The story was shared thousands of times.

“It’s misleading, and people share stuff like that all the time,” he said.

Poynter journalists Heaven Taylor-Wynn and Alex Mahadevan, who were visiting Concord High on Tuesday, have been traveling around the country hosting trainings with students on tips for spotting news sites publishing inaccuracies and fact-checking.

They also work with a group of teenagers who are part of Poynter’s “Teen Fact-Checking Network,” who work to fact-check stories that go viral online.

The trainers were in New Hampshire on Tuesday, hoping to inform students ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Later on Tuesday, they had a stop planned at the University of New Hampshire to talk to freshman English students. They said they had been in Iowa earlier in the week.

“The stuff we see online will influence the decisions that we make,” Taylor-Wynn told students. “I’m sure a lot of you plan on going to college or getting a really cool career in the future. If the information you know about that college or that career is incorrect and you make a decision based on that, you have a misinformed decision and things will probably not have positive outcomes.”

“You want to make sure you’re getting reliable, accurate, truthful information that you can make decisions based on,” she added.

The journalists recommended a few questions to students to ask, based on recommendations from Stanford History Education Group, if they see a post on the internet that appears “suspect.”

“Ask yourself, who is behind the information? Who is sharing it? What evidence are they presenting that it’s accurate? What do other sources say?” Mahadevan said.

One way of figuring out whether information is coming from a legitimate source is to see if that source’s account is “verified” on social media. When a social media user has a blue checkmark next to their name on a site like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, that means that source is likely credible, the trainers said.

Another is turning to the web to do more research about the site where the article was published, and its reputation. Users can also use a search engine to see what other news sites are saying about the topic of the story.

They discussed a few forms of manipulation on the internet, one being “deep fake videos,” or editing someone else’s face onto another person’s face. The timing of videos can also be edited to manipulate viewers.

For example, the trainers mentioned a video circulated of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking at the Center for America Progress Ideas Conference that was slowed down to make her appear as though she was intoxicated.

A problem, the trainers said, is that when a post like the Pelosi video goes viral, a lot of people see it. That video got more than a million views and 88,000 reactions, meaning shares or likes, from viewers, according to the International Fact-Checking Network. However, when a correction was published that showed that the video is altered, that post only got 19,000 reactions.

“It’s really hard for a fact check to get out there and correct that misinformation,” Taylor-Wynn said.

“That is the problem with misinformation. We all see the fake, the incorrect, the wrong, the inaccurate,” she added. “But chances are, not nearly as many people are going to see the corrected version of the misinformation. By that time, people have already made up their minds about something, or already made a decision, and that is the big, big issue.”

Another tip was watching out for advertisements masked as news stories. Taylor-Wynn said a lot of companies are paying for advertisements to be posted on their news websites that are posted with news content. Celebrities also often will advertise products on their Instagram or Snapchat accounts. A tip for identifying advertisements online is to look for posts marked “paid content,” “sponsored” or “promoted.”

“Social media is engineered to show us things that we want to see,” she said. “They’re supposed to look like the stuff you’re already looking at. It’s supposed to look like an Instagram post or a Snapchat story or a Facebook post or a tweet. It’s supposed to look exactly like it because they don’t want you to think that they’re trying to advertise to you, and that can be a problem.

“People want to get you to buy their stuff, they want you to buy into what they’re trying to sell you and if it’s free, chances are, you are the product and you’re attention is the product. It’s important to understand that.”

After the presentation, junior Madison Dashnaw said she learned a lot.

“I feel like the whole blue checkmark thing was definitely new, like I never knew to look at that to see if something is false or not,” she said.

Both Dashnaw and her friend Madison Bailey said they had seen fake news being posted on applications like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Most of the ones they noticed had to do with celebrities, they said.

Although they had a lot of election coverage pop up on their social media feeds, they both said those kind of stories don’t typically catch their interest.

“Yeah, I see political stuff all the time,” Dashnaw said. “It’s like all over Snapchat. But politics isn’t really my thing.”

“I just skip through it,” Bailey said.

Junior Hannah Willette said that the more she’s encountered false news on the internet, the better she’s gotten at weeding it out of her social media feed.

“Some sources are more reliable than others, and I think you learn what you can trust over time,” she said.

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