Combating Fake News

Photo of Barry Dickinson, PhD, Dean of the School of Business Administration

By Barry Dickinson, PhD
Dean, School of Business Administration

We have access to more information today than at any other time in history. The information is instantaneously accessible through a device that we carry in our hand. We are bombarded with news notifications, emails, texts, and trending stories. When we notice something that is of interest, we pass it along to others or discuss it with our colleagues without much thought. Do we take the time to evaluate the credibility of the message or the news? How do we discern information from “fake news” or “alternative truth?”

Unbeknownst to many of us, non-commercial entities are utilizing powerful marketing techniques to sway public opinion. For example, Russian nationals deployed a purposeful strategy to sway voter sentiment during the 2016 United States presidential election. They created fictitious news stories and posted them to covert Facebook and Twitter accounts and timelines. These stories were unwittingly shared throughout these platforms, by those who saw them, as real accounts. These operatives purchased over $100,000 in advertising on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to serve manipulative advertisements that supported their political interests (Ohlin, 2017). These advertisements reached over 126 million Facebook users in the United States (The Guardian, 2017). Users had no way of knowing if these stories and advertisements were accurate, unless they took the time to verify the facts.

There are ways to verify the validity of information and identify potential bias. Here are some key concepts to consider when evaluating information:

  1. Reputation: Is the publication well-regarded? Does it publish, and follow, an ethical information gathering process? What is the reputation of the authors or journalists?
  2. Sources: Are sources of information made easily available to the reader? Are statements first-hand accounts? Are multiple sources used to corroborate findings?
  3. Fact-checking: Can the facts presented in the article be verified in the original sources? Is the research methodology or the data collection process transparent?
  4. Tone of the article: Is there potential bias in the tone of the article? Example the language in the article and determine if it represents a sole ideology.
  5. Loaded language: Does the article use language that is polarized? Is it overly positive or overly negative?
  6. Balanced viewpoints: Does the article present facts related to both sides of an issue? Are facts skewed towards one side of an issue?
  7. Funding: Is there funding related to the study, publication, or advertisement? Who are the funding sources? Is it related to a particular ideology or does it have a vested interest in the issue at hand?

Of course, this evaluation of information does take some time and effort on our part. Some of us are trained in research practices and doing this is second nature. For others, it is not so simple. However, we all play a role the proliferation of so-called “fake news.” If we take the time to consider the source, and fact-check data, we will be less likely to share information that is of questionable validity. In the age of “fake news” and “alternative truth,” we must be more vigilant than ever.
Ohlin, J. (2017). Did Russian cyber interference in the 2016 election violate international law? Texas Law Review, 95(7), 1579-1598.