Fake-news headlines fool American adults about 75 percent of the time. The Seattle Public Library — and The Seattle Times — are trying to end that.
IF you are intensely hoping that the information you are reading now is — either — true or false, congratulations. You have taken the first step toward identifying how susceptible you are to believing fake news.
Gauging your own emotional investment in a piece of information was the first advice given at the Seattle Public Library’s “Fake News Survival Guide: Resources and Tips for Staying Informed.”
The two-hour class is well worth the time to learn how to evaluate information, how to identify fake news and how to recognize personal biases and vulnerabilities that open the door to fake news.
“We are all empowered now to create content,” Di Zhang told the class recently, “and that can be a good thing and a bad thing.”
More internet communication can be good. But teenagers in a Macedonia village pumping out untruths on dozens of websites and raking in thousands of dollars is a bad thing — especially since most of the stories involved U.S. politics and were wildly misleading.
Zhang, a library employee for nine years who teaches the class, had more information on the dangers of fake news:
• Two in five people get all their news online, where fake news is most prevalent;
• 23 percent report having shared made-up news stories;
• 59 percent of links on Twitter are shared unread and unviewed by the person sharing them;
• 64 percent of adults say fake news causes confusion about current issues and events.
While it is tempting to assign political motives to fake news, sowing confusion or exerting influence is rarely the reason for it.
“Usually there’s a moneymaking scheme behind fake news stories,” said Zhang, who has degrees in philosophy and information science from the University of Washington. “Going viral is the goal, and more clicks equal more ad revenue.”
Zhang said the library decided on the class after the 2016 election cycle, when library users increasingly asked for help in sorting out online information. The region is fortunate that the library is offering the classes, which continue into November. Check the calendar at spl.org or call 206-386-4636 to find out more.
One more piece of advice from Zhang: “If a news organization has won a Pulitzer Prize, chances are it has pretty good ethical standards.”
The Seattle Times has won 10 of them and has a long commitment to fact-checking and accuracy. Finding that fake-news headlines fool American adults about 75 percent of the time, The Seattle Times is sponsoring “Fact vs. Fake: Fighting back against fake news” on Wednesday. The event is full; however, you can follow on Twitter at @STLiveWireEvent (#STLiveWirefeed) or join in on Facebook at facebook.com/STLiveWireEvent.
There’s a waitlist to attend the live event at the UW’s Kane Hall, an indication that interest is intense in finding out what is true or false. That’s a good thing.