Alicia Shepard | Courtesy Photo

Despite the cancellation of the panel “Fake News: What is it and Who Decides?” journalist and planned panelist Alicia Shepard spoke to select Cal Poly students Feb. 13 to answer students’ questions and highlight the role fake news plays today.

Shepard emphasized the importance in addressing the problem on campus. Following the recent publication of her research report entitled “Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth”, Shepard originally hoped to provide students with ways to combat fake news.

“I wanted to draw students’ attention to the fact that they are easily duped online,” Shepard said. “Today, we all have a responsibility to check out information.”

Shepard’s key strategy in being a “good news consumer” is news literacy. Education in news literacy helps students question information that comes from suspicious news sources.

“There is a fire hose of information that comes at us everyday, some of it true, and much of it not” Shepard said. “I think all college students need to learn critical thinking skills to be good participants in a democracy.”

For example, one of the steps in Shepard’s news consumer’s guide to how to not get duped, is to “read beyond the headlines.” Rather than accept the content of a story based on its headline, Shepard said to look further into the story.

“It’s really important that we educate ourselves about what’s happening in the world with good, quality information,” Shepard said.

However, she warns that students should not become cynical when reading news. Emphasizing the importance of being a conscious news consumer, Shepard considers everyone to be publishers, editors and writers. She said students must also learn how to vet information to get accurate and fair facts.

“The key question that all students should ask anytime they get a piece of information is: ‘How do you know that?’” Shepard said. “If a friend of a friend of a friend told you that your biology class was canceled, the first thing you would do is ask, ‘How do you know that?’”

Just as students know there is a difference between finding out that a class is canceled through word-of-mouth versus getting an email from their professor, Shepard reiterates that students need to do the same when consuming news.

According to Shepard, fake news generally appeals to four emotions: fear, curiosity, hope and outrage or anger.

“When you see something on social media that really makes you angry, you should pause and evaluate the information rather than just react to it,” Shepard said. “Do your own research.”

Shepard’s 2017 PEN America report “Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth” details strategies to combat fake news and how they may affect free speech.

“We certainly don’t want Google and Facebook and Twitter to decide what is news,” Shepard said. “We do have free speech, but it’s our responsibility to check [information] out.”

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