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Let’s Talk About Fake News

Dr. Kevin Baaske and Dr. Michael Clarke lead the third forum of Democracy in Action Series

Dr. Kevin Baaske talks about fake news at the Action for Democracy forum

Cal State LA Communication Studes Department

Dr. Kevin Baaske talks about fake news at the Action for Democracy forum

Marcela Valdivia, Staff Reporter

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On Tuesday, March 7, the University-Student Union Theatre hosted the third forum of “Democracy in Action: Educational Forums on Post-Election Federal Policies.” Dr. Octavio Villalpando, Vice Provost for Diversity and Engaged Learning, presented “Fake News, Social Media and the Future of American Democracy.” The biweekly series of faculty-led presentations address current political issues in the United States.

The educational forums aim to help answer questions regarding the actions of the federal government by having conversations with students, staff, and faculty. The conversations followed by Q&A help individuals learn and prepare for future federal executive orders.

“What we are trying to do with these educational forums is to try to make some connections between what is happening through recent federal executive orders and the general political climate that we are living through,” said Dr. Villalpando.

Dr. Kevin Baaske, Associate Chair and professor of the Department of Communication Studies, distinguished between news and fake news. He highlighted the rise of fake news through social media platforms and the impact created on individuals.

According to the Pew Research Center, 62% of US adults obtain news from social media on sites such as, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Among other outlets, individuals utilize local TV, cable TV, nightly network TV, news websites, radio, and print newspapers.

Stories that are fake news mainly stand out when they are unbelievably shocking, involve a conspiracy with many actors, come from questionable sources, or come from a limited number of sources. As a result, these fake news stories create an array of misleading information due to lies and false facts.

Dr. Baaske emphasized fake news is produced to make money, as various people visit websites to seek information. Moreover, fake news organizations aim to polarize the populace, destroy democracy, prepare Americans  for tyranny, and diminish trust in leaders and institutions.

“My argument to you is that it matters that some people engage in fake news, it matters to us as individuals, it matters to the decisions we make, it matters to our sense of community, and it matters to the structures that we look at to govern,” said Dr. Baaske.

The  responsibilities of individuals that Dr. Baaske mentioned to the audience included:  be more critical of the news, regularly consult many sources, expose fake news, share accurate information with your family and friends, and teach your students and peers, and be on guard against attacks on democracy. These actions will help diminish feelings of anger and hatred between individuals about fake news.

Dr. Michael Clarke, Assistant Professor of the Department of Television, Film, and Media Studies, examined the independent media production across different media platforms. He focused on specific observations on how social media firms distribute fake news to the public.

The primary source of revenue for social media comes from advertising in a unique manner. Dr. Clarke mentioned how Facebook and Google are the top firms that collect data information automatically from users in order to captivate users with advertisement of their interest.

“The entire financial premise behind these social media firms is based on the data driven fragmentation and specification of users as well as construction of tailor world designs to lock in engagement,” said Dr. Clarke.

Ad ranks play a critical  role in  the development of fake news. Ad ranks determine what people see on  Facebook  based on a combination of posts, shares, likes, and comments. As a result, regardless of how misleading a story is, it will appear on Facebook and Google searches.

“Social media firms have historically been both economically and organizationally blinded from the problem of content like fake news and thus far unable to deal with it in any substantial way,” said Dr. Clarke.

The next Democracy in Action forum will be “First Amendment Freedoms: What’s at Stake?” on Tuesday, March 21, at the University-Student Union Theatre.

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