Chances are you’ve seen fake news pass through your social media feeds, but are you good at spotting it? Two Colorado State University-Pueblo seniors set out to find out last spring. Now, they are taking their research on fake news on the road and around the globe to present at two conferences.
Chianna Schoenthaler and Michele Bedard, both mass communications students, sought to determine whether “there is a correlation between a media consumer’s understanding of the difference between satirical news versus fake news and varying socio-demographic factors” as part of a research class.
In other words, the students said they wanted to know who was more likely to believe actual fake news — not satire that’s created for entertainment, or clickbait, but news that’s made up to achieve a goal, most often politically.
Sam Ebersole, who taught the research class, had the students design a research project that was in some way related to the topic of fake news — a buzzword that was constantly on the minds of politicos and those in the media throughout and following the 2016 election. Now, Bedard and Schoenthaler say they see it everywhere, and it hasn’t become at all less frequent since they started their research more than a year ago.
The students found in their small sample size that people who identified as independent were able to better pick out fake news, Ebersole said. Republicans were the least likely to. Democrats fell somewhere in the middle.
Participants ranged from young adults — college freshmen — to seasoned media professionals.
Most surprising to the two student researchers? The lack of current event knowledge among young people, they said.
“I just assumed so many other students would have that same outlook that they need to be literate in the media. It was kind of disturbing, really,” Bedard said.
Schoenthaler said, as anticipated, young people use social media as a main source of news. But they’re more likely to believe a headline based on the source and whether that source has a reputation for being truthful or leaning to a certain end of the political spectrum.
Now, they’re presenting that research at the Web Conference 2018 in Lyon, France — a prestigious international conference about the future of the World Wide Web — and at the DePauw University Honors Research Conference in Indiana.
And the research keeps becoming even more relevant. When special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian citizens for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 election last week, Bedard said she feels that it’s good there’s action being taken on the subject of fake news.
The students and Ebersole now joke that they may never get completely away from fake news. Ebersole said he keeps a Google Drive folder of fake news headlines. And the students have a running list they’re always adding to, too.
“I don’t know if any of us can be savvy enough,” Ebersole said of the growing number of stories he now sees. “Sometimes I look at these things and say wow that is extremely clever how they presented it.”