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Mace & Crown | April 27, 2018

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"Stop Trying to Make Fake News Happen!" seminar held on campus

Audra Reigle | Technology Editor

Students and staff filled about half of a small auditorium in the Mills Godwin Building for an event held by the ODU Libraries. The event, titled “Stop Trying to Make Fake News Happen!,” was aimed to teach those in attendance about fake news, how it is generated and how to stop it from spreading. It was held on Nov. 2.

Seven panelists gave their insight during the discussion. ODU faculty and local journalists were brought in to share their thoughts. These panelists included Brandi Cummings, WAVY TV weekend and evening anchor; Lora Hadzhidimova, ODU graduate student in international studies; Jakon Hays and Jeff Reece of The Virginian-Pilot; Jesse Richman, an associate professor of political science at ODU; Ronald Rugg, WODU general manager; and Sean Sadri, an assistant professor of communication and theatre arts at ODU. Giovanna Genard, assistant vice president of communication and marketing for ODU, was the host.

“Fake news, as it’s exploded, has become important in politics,” Richman said.

He explained that fake news was important politically because of the role it played in the recent election. The idea of fake news is not a partisan issue, he said.

Richman was a part of Trump’s fake news. Information from a study co-written by Richman was used incorrectly. The study was on non-citizens voting in U.S. elections. Trump and his allies took estimates from the study and multiplied them to try and say American election results are undermined by massive voting by non-citizens. The research said that non-citizens voting could slightly tip the scales one way or the other.

ODU students were able to submit questions ahead of the event for the panelists to answer. Questions were about how fake news has changed over the years, the panelists’ experience with fake news and how social media impacts fake news.

“The fake news [is] not something new,” Hadzhidimova said.

“Even though the term fake news has recently gained popularity, it has been around forever. This has always been a problem,” Reece said.

Cummings shared a video from CNN featuring a man who tried to convince viewers that the banana shown on screen was an apple. The video was part of a campaign by CNN to combat fake news.

“As journalists, it makes us more cautious of the way we tell stories,” Cummings said.

“Repeating a lie, even with the purpose of correcting it, helps spread it,” Reece said.

Cummings shared a story about how WAVY got caught up in fake news through social media. The station was covering a story about a mother and daughter who died in Virginia Beach. A family member told a reporter that they believed bullying was a factor in their deaths, but police were aware rumors were being spread and wanted to wait for the autopsy report.

A post was made on a Facebook page for a Black Lives Matter activist about an incident at a Virginia Beach school in which a student was dragged by a teacher. Cummings reached out to the activist to try and get an interview with the mother, but the activist wanted to do a story on the Virginia Beach deaths, which the activist called a suicide, and the incident in the Virginia Beach school. The activist wouldn’t share the mother’s information because they wouldn’t cover both stories. Instead, Cummings showed an Instagram post that claimed WAVY, as well as other local news stations, wouldn’t do the story and called them fake news. Both stories were covered by WAVY, according to Cummings, just not in the way that the activist wanted.

“Because we opted to do more research, we became fake news,” Cummings said.

Social media was a big part of the panel. Panelists spoke on how social media helps spread fake news and how it helps combat it.

“In 1902, you didn’t have outlets such as television and all these social networks to distribute information. You had the Virginian Pilot, competing newspapers and word of mouth. Fake news was there, but not at the rate that it is today,” Hays said.

“Social media is a large part of a college student’s life,” Rugg said. “It has given people a platform to be unchecked.”

Rugg brought up last year’s racist video featuring a person wearing an ODU sweatshirt. Reece added that The Virginian-Pilot was originally not going to cover the story, but because it blew up, they decided to cover it. Several individuals were targeted as the person in the video through social media, and the Pilot opted to cover the story through their perspective.

Panelists gave students advice on sharing news on their social media.

“Don’t just look at a headline and immediately share it. Make sure you click on the article and read it,” Sadri said.

Sadri also said that we seek out stories that coincide with our beliefs. He encouraged to call out friends and family who are sharing fake news on their social media.

“Step away from the news feeds. Don’t rely on one source of information,” Hays said.

ODU Libraries shared a game to help teach students about fake news. The game is designed to teach students how to determine fake news versus real news.