The real truth about fake news


Fake news: it’s everywhere and it’s become an epidemic. So much so, Durham College (DC) has a general education course dedicated to fighting it.

Valerie Lapp, professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, teaches “The Real Truth About Fake News” a course dedicated to teaching students how to detect fake news.

“With the advent of social media, with the fact that people are not just getting their news from a few trusted sources, that are just getting flooded with news, advertising, fake news, satire, opinion in just a big wall on the internet, that people are no longer able to decide what’s real and what’s fake,” says Lapp.

The hybrid course specifically focuses on how to spot fake news, stop the spread of it, find media bias while comparing bias to fake news, the role of personal bias in fake news detecting, how to find trustworthy sources and how fake news affects democracy. A hybrid course is a course divided between online and in-class.

Lapp says she got the idea last year after she saw “all the crazy stuff happening after the 2016 (U.S.) election.” She sat down with DC Journalism – Mass Media professor Teresa Goff to discuss possible course content. Goff and Journalism – Mass Media Program coordinator Brian Legree have also been guest speakers in the class. They educate students on the importance of local news.

“For many of them, it’s quite an eye-opener,” says Lapp,  “What Brian and Teresa did…. Was basically point out how you need to know what’s going on…around you locally and how could you find that out here at Durham College.”

Lapp described the current news cycle pattern as a “fire hose of information.” The sheer amount of information people see every day can make it difficult to determine what is true and what is not, according to Lapp. She says a lot of people are simply not prepared to do the work to determine if they are reading fake news.

“The consequences of not doing that work and not knowing what’s fake and what’s true are devastating,” says Lapp, “What I see, even in my students, is that I’ll show them two stories, one is from CBC the other is fake news and they’ll just say ‘it’s all crap.’ There is a tendency to just dismiss everything.”

Lapp says this disengagement and fake news both have “devastating” effects on democracy, which is why she says everyone needs to fight the fake news epidemic. She says by dismissing all sources of information, people are not being informed on government activities or people in power.

“The more people who feel they can’t trust the information, the more they disengage. And when you have disengaged people, you don’t have a functioning democracy,” says Lapp.

Lapp says one of the main causes of fake news is mistakes made by news organizations in events of breaking news. Other causes are satire being taken seriously and true fake news containing a “grain of truth.”

“Sometimes though, I do think that even the very best journalism outlets, the best journalists are under such terrible pressure with the 24/7 news cycle that they rush to get something out, and particularly when we see…breaking news of any kind, then all kinds of messes happen,” says Lapp.

On April 19, Lapp will be hosting a “Fake News Summit” in the Global Classroom. Confirmed guests include Canada-based Buzzfeed media editor Craig Silverman.

“He’s sort of made it his mission, and Buzzfeed has kind of given him this responsibility of uncovering fake news… he finds it and follows stories that expose rings of fake news propagators,” says Lapp.

Lapp says even with spreading misinformation and distrust in the media, there is still a need for journalists.

“The world needs well-trained, ethical journalists more than ever, and ones that are willing and able to report on the local news – that’s so important,” says Lapp.

Fake News Summit from Global Class on Vimeo.