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Filtering out fake news

The term fake news is heard frequently in today’s political and media environments, but how do we identify it and guard against it? These were some of the questions addressed in a recent interactive adult workshop at the Rockridge branch library.

Most simply, fake news is intentionally deceitful. It is often fabricated, may use altered images, or have an agenda behind it. But the issue is not black and white, we learned. There is a vast spectrum of news that ranges in journalistic quality, partisan bias, and editorial perspective. Some articles, for example, will spin real news into something shocking, or only present selected facts rather than a balanced view of a story.

During the event we compared two articles on the same topic looking for clues to their reliability. The names of the news outlets were hidden, challenging our reliance on what we consider to be credible news organizations. We immediately noticed inflammatory language, lack of primary sources, poor grammar, misleading headlines and more.

Next we plotted news sources on a quality grid along axes of journalistic quality and partisan bias. This led to a discussion of the so-called echo chamber, particularly predominant online, where readers self-select journalistic sources that match their personal biases. The Washington Post’s Red Feed, Blue Feed project is a powerful illustration of the phenomenon.

Finally, the library staff taught participants how to access The New York Times using the Oakland Public Library’s subscription, which works in branches and from home. They also demonstrated the library’s online magazine tool, where library cardholders and browse electronic versions of print publications.

The Friends of the Rockridge Library supports a variety of services at the branch, including educational adult seminars like this one. Check the Oakland Public Library website for a calendar of forthcoming events at the Rockridge branch.

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