Taking on fake news
CMCI faculty fight fake news on multiple fronts.
Fake news sites are the Hydra of the internet: take one down and two more grow back. At CMCI, faculty are tackling the monster from multiple angles.
Assistant Professor Chris Vargo uses big-data analytics to understand how fake news influences the broader media agenda. This year, Vargo analyzed millions of news articles across all types of media and found that fake news websites had about twice as much influence on the media landscape as fact-checking websites did in 2016.
Vargo is surveying about 1,000 social media users to find out whether certain types of people are more likely to spread fake news on social media.
“Then we’ll be able to talk more about the why—or at least the how—which will help us better understand this fake news phenomenon,” says Vargo, who teaches in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design.
Because fake news is a multipronged problem, the solution requires cooperation across industries.
In the journalism department, faculty members recently joined a working group of computer scientists to explore technologies, including apps and plugins, that can help consumers assess the quality of news they are reading.
For journalists’ part, the task is to focus on the “guts” of reporting, says journalism department Chair Elizabeth Skewes. As the industry continues to expand into the high-speed realm of online and multimedia storytelling, journalists must remember not to take shortcuts when it comes to traditional best practices.
Another key strategy is continued public outreach and improved media literacy.
Media studies and journalism faculty are developing a program to train middle and high school teachers in media literacy education strategies.
“The Media Literacy Lab will serve as a learning space for students and faculty to explore innovative media literacies and incorporate them in a transformative teaching experience,” says Nabil Echchaibi, the media studies department chair.
Last spring, Mei-Ling McNamara, an assistant professor of journalism who is working with Echchaibi on the Media Literacy Lab, gathered industry experts and media scholars for a public conference called Reporting in the Age of Alternative Facts.
CMCI invited the public to attend a series of free panels, as well as a keynote speech by Joe Sexton, ProPublica’s senior editor and a 25-year veteran of The New York Times.
Having spent decades in the ever-changing journalism industry, Sexton’s advice to future members of the press was simple: “Embrace two qualities: stamina and humility.”
Illustration by Michele Rosenthal.
Media studies PhD student Ashley Campbell discusses religion and culture in her @wholymedia podcast.
What do Marvel’s Thor, the horror film The Conjuring 2 and Donald Trump’s inaugural speech have in common? According to CU Boulder PhD candidate Ashley Campbell, the answer is religion.
In her podcast, (w)Holy Media, Campbell discusses all the ways religion is hiding in plain sight in American culture.
“Even if you aren’t religious, it still impacts your everyday life,” Campbell says.
In the U.S., a group called “nones”—people who say they have no religious affiliation—are now more numerous than Catholics or mainline Protestants, according to the Pew Research Center. But while many Americans no longer consider themselves religious, people are still attracted to spiritual messages in different ways.
This is the idea behind Campbell’s podcast, and behind her work as a research fellow with CMCI’s Center for Media, Religion and Culture, which conducts groundbreaking research and promotes innovative teaching at the intersection of religion, media and public life.
One focus at the center is public scholarship, says Associate Professor Nabil Echchaibi, the center’s associate director. Campbell’s work discussing religion in ways that are accessible to nonreligious people is important to that cause.
“The point is to try and make the academic study of religion more digestible to nonacademic and nonreligious scholars,” says Campbell, who holds master’s degrees in journalism and divinity. “It’s about the ways religion participates in our everyday lives.”
Using data from Twitter, information scientist @mjp39 improves the way we track epidemics.
A little bird is tipping researchers off to the next flu outbreak.
Health practitioners, who typically depend on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alert the public to outbreaks after the fact, could use social media to track the flu in real time, according to a CU Boulder researcher.
“The national levels in the U.S. are collected by the CDC, and, depending on how you count, that’s delayed by one to two weeks,” says Michael Paul, an assistant professor of information science and co-author of the new book Social Monitoring for Public Health. “With something like the flu—where the outbreak is fairly rapid and sudden—it can make a big difference in terms of preparation if you have that extra two-week notice.”
Internationally, in places like South Africa, Twitter data can beat traditional tracking methods by a matter of months.
In addition to tracking flu outbreaks, Paul and his colleagues mine Twitter comments and hashtags to see personal reactions to flu season.
“It’s easier to use social media because, unlike tracking how many people have the flu, awareness of the flu is something that happens outside the doctor’s office,” he says.