COMMENTARY: Fight ‘fake’ news the best way you can by reading newspapers

    On Wednesday, I will lead a presentation about the importance of newspapers in an era of fake news as part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Festival of International Books & Arts (FESTIBA).

    On Wednesday, I will lead a presentation about the importance of newspapers in an era of fake news as part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Festival of International Books & Arts (FESTIBA).

    When I first discussed the possibility of presenting at FESTIBA two months ago, the concern then was the spreading of fake news stories, which was prevalent during the 2016 presidential campaign and may have actually had an impact on the final outcome.

    While that is still a legitimate issue, in the last couple of weeks the fight against fake news now has multiple fronts. Not only is the media fighting against made-up online stories, but President Donald Trump refers to news stories that are unfavorable to his administration as “fake.” On Feb. 17, Trump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

    To that I say, keep reading newspapers. It is an important time in our history to consume fact-based information. Newspapers will give you reliable facts so that you can make informed decisions.

    A newspaper, for instance, will not publish a bizarre story that a pizzeria was running a child sex abuse ring run by Hillary Clinton. That fake story was shared all over social media, and people believed it. In November, a man fired multiple gunshots inside the pizza joint. After he was arrested, the man told police he wanted to “self-investigate” the online conspiracy theories regarding the child sex abuse ring.

    Many of us are guilty of sharing stories without investigating them first. A Pew Research Center survey found that 23 percent of Americans have shared fake news. According to another Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, most Americans (64 percent) believe fake news stories make it difficult for people to separate fact from fiction.

    The president isn’t helping when he deems stories he doesn’t like as “fake news.” That muddies the difference between accurate fact-based reporting and actual fake news.

    It is our job, as media, to dig into stories and ask questions — whether he likes it our not. The media is doing what it is supposed to do: Working to provide fact-based information.

    Whether you are for or against construction of a border wall, you should want to know the details. How much will it cost? Who will actually pay for it? Will it work? What might be the economic/environmental impact for places such as the Rio Grande Valley? These are questions the media is trying to get answered. That’s not fake news and that’s not being an enemy to America.

    Trump has harshly pushed back against the media’s coverage of the potential ties between Russia and the president before his inauguration. That’s not fake news. Americans have the right to know if there was any wrongdoing.

    To be fair, Trump isn’t the only politician to take issue with the media. He’s just the loudest objector. During the Obama administration, nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers were prosecuted, compared to only three by all previous administrations combined.

    According to The New York Times, the Justice Department under Obama monitored journalists’ phone records and issued subpoenas to try and force reporters to reveal sources.

    This only makes it more difficult for journalists to do their job and provide factual news.

    Let’s not make it even more difficult by spreading fact-less stories online and on social media. Consider these tips from the Harvard Library website to combat fake news:

    >> Consider the source: Be wary of strange domain names.

    >> Check the URL: Fake news sites often use web addresses that make it look like a real site.

    >> Get a second opinion: Do some research on stories you are unsure about.

    >> If needed, ask a librarian for help.

    Best of all, you can fight fake news by reading newspapers in print and online. It is important during this divisive time in American politics to take newspapers seriously and to be informed citizens through fact-based stories.

    Join me at 1:40 p.m. on Wednesday in Room 179 of the Liberal Arts Building South at the UTRGV Edinburg campus for a discussion on the importance of finding fact-based information/news from legitimate news organization and websites in a sea of false online information.

    Peter Rasmussen is digital content editor for The Monitor. Contact him at prasmussen@themonitor.com.