‘Fake news’ a real discussion at Sewickley Public Library
Just because a reader does not agree with a story does not make it fake news.
That knowledge and how opinions are not news were among the many related topics discussed at a fake news and information literacy workshop presented at the Sewickley Public Library by PublicSource Executive Director Mila Sanina.
“I think, today, information literacy and fake news awareness is something that worries a lot of people,” Sanina said. “They feel maybe helpless, not trusting. This is an effort to curb that worry and offer some skills or food for thought in how they could prepare themselves and their kids.”
She said fake news often has a big lie wrapped with a kernel of truth and concealed sources.
Ways to spot such stories include checking dates, where it was published and by what authors, misspellings and headlines that may include “This is not a HOAX.”
Sanina noted fake news can be sensationalized stories produced by one content creator, and major legitimate stories are often covered by more than a single outlet.
Sewickley resident Ann Murphy said she believes people are more conscious about vetting stories than in the past, and major news outlets must be held to a higher standard.
“People are paying closer attention to what’s being reported, and people are really calling out misleading or false information much quicker than they ever were before,” she said. “They don’t take it at face value anymore. Big papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post are no longer given a free pass that their words are in stone.
“It’s the same with every outlet. When you do come across these fake news stories, even the regular reader picks up very quickly and immediately quashes it. The fake stuff can only circulate among a smaller group of people who really don’t care. It’s our nature to seek the truth. That’s why we’re still doing archaeological digs.”
Murphy called Sanina’s workshop a great introductory course in identifying and addressing fake news. About 15 people attended.
Resident Larry Coudriet, who hosted three discussions about fake news at the library, agreed with Murphy’s assessment.
He said people are more insightful, analytic and question what’s being given to them.
“My presentations were somewhat different, and I looked at things in a much more globalistic point of view concerning possibly control of the vast majority of the news that we the American population, are being fed,” Coudriet said. “I think there’s a great awakening going in. I think the attendance here tonight spoke to the fact that there is an awakening. It’s encouraging that people came here to have this discussion.”
Sanina’s presentation briefly touched on the evolution of media from the printing press to television and how Macedonian teens made tons of money from digital ads running on more than 100 websites that pumped out false viral stories that supported President Donald Trump.
It also showed how viral fake stories can lead to violence such as “Pizzagate,” in which a Washington, D.C., pizzeria was wrongly linked to an alleged child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
A North Carolina man with a rifle went to the pizza shop in December 2016 to investigate the widely debunked conspiracy theory and opened fire on a door.
Sanina said the story was posted on message boards and various other online outlets.
“You can see how it gets more complicated, then it spreads further,” she said. “Somebody thought that it was true … That’s where it becomes the reality that something was cooked up can have real life consequences.”
Sanina’s visit Tuesday night, and other free PublicSource courses, were made possible through the Allegheny County Library Association.
“The fact that we have news coming at us 24/7, I think it’s really important we learn to distinguish what is legitimate news and what might be spam or misleading information for whatever reason,” said Lynne Schneider, library assistant director. “We’re thrilled that we can have this program here.”
PublicSource is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit digital-first news organization delivering public-service reporting and analysis. More information about the group is available at publicsource.org.
More information about Sewickley Public Library programs is available at sewickleylibrary.org.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .