Fake News and Undergraduate Students at UIC

Abstract
This study looks into young adults and fake news. We used an online survey to ask University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) students questions about adult’s recognition, knowledge and identification of fake news. We then used these variables to determine to what extent college students viewed fake news being an issue or not. We found that these factors did indeed play a role on their experiences and that people who have more knowledge and are better at identifying fake news, seem to think that it is more of an issue than those who do not. Exposure is the variable that played a minor role since almost everyone having been exposed to it did not necessarily believe misinformation.
Introduction
In today’s world of innovative technology, social media has become a highly used resource for both news and entertainment. Within the past two years, the term “fake news” has become a term widely used when there is a disagreement between a variety of media sources. According to Time Magazine (2017) fake news is being added to the dictionary. It is defined as false news stories, often of a sensational nature, created to be widely shared online for purpose of generating ad revenue via web traffic or discrediting a public figure, political movement, company, etc. Currently, almost 67% of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media, and 78% of those Americans are between the ages of 18–49 (Mitchell, Gottfried, Barthel, & Shearer, 2016).
The difference in getting news from social media and other sources such as newspapers or television is the timeliness of the events. In today’s world, we are likely to view nearly any event in real time due to the rapid sharing of information across social media platforms. Sharing can be a central concept of networked culture (Kennedy, 2011). Because of the spreading of information through sharing within social media networks, we can see how receiving news from social media is more beneficial for many people in America. However, this opens the door for many sources of fake news to spread false information into the minds of its readers.
The problem with fake news being spread throughout social media is that the information released acts as gatekeepers by selecting which content to release by framing (Rodríguez, 2017). According to Entman (1993), framing theory is “to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such ways to promote a problem definition, casual interpretation, moral evaluation”. By framing social media, news outlets can pick and choose what they deem relevant to publish. Thus, leading to some news being referred to as fake news, and others as real news.
This study will explore the effects of framing through sources of fake news and real news as they are expressed on social media. In today’s culture where 67% of Americans receive their news from social media sites, it is crucial to conduct studies that will help further the spread of factually based knowledge on social media (Rodriguez, 2017). Study results will show the relationship between the knowledge, identification, and exposure, as it relates to the feeling of fake news being an issue in our society.
Literature Review
In 2016, in the United States as Election Day approached, “fake news” gained growing public interest. It was at this time that people googled the term more than they have in the past 15 months (Google Trends, 2017). “Fake news are articles that are intentionally and verifiably false and could mislead readers” (Allcott, H, & Gentzkow, M., 2017). Fake news is written, published and disseminated to sway public opinion. It is in many cases that have an angle that is to the far right (Allcott, H, & Gentzkow, M., 2017). With an increase in the fake news comes an army of journalists who are trying to debunk falsely reported news content. Large news organizations such as BBC have started to cover stories on popular news articles that are shared throughout social media. They intend to prove to people what stories are true and which are false. What we know about fake news is that it is predominantly based on anecdotal evidence (Vargo, C. J., Guo, L., & Amazeen, M. A., 2017). Since the invention of the internet, there has been a rise in so-called citizen journalism. A type of journalism that allows anyone with internet access to create and share stories that are important to them. The problem with such news coverage is their lack of experience in the journalism field. Such citizens can incorrectly cover a news story. It is typically editorial staff that plays a key role in what to cover and play the important role of gatekeeping. It is so influential that news media is often recognized as the fourth estate. It is the internet that has been increasingly changing this fourth estate. Although many researchers have been looking into what fake news is, there is little information on what generation is affected by such news. Using surveys, interviews and content analysis, we will explore the influence fake news has on different age groups.
Chris J Vargo explains in his article The Agenda-Setting Power of Fake News how fake news is also affecting traditional news medium. The original theory looks at what topics trend in the news and how that affects the opinions of audiences (Vargo, C. J., Guo, L., & Amazeen, M. A., 2017). Whether the news is fake or real, both can result in agenda-setting. Early studies on agenda-setting emphasize that agenda-setting is not limited to news and audiences. It was suggested that elite media organizations influence smaller media organizations. The literature by Vargo shows how the New York Times and Washington Post often set the agenda of newspapers (Vargo, C. J., Guo, L., & Amazeen, M. A., 2017 p.3). There is, however, research that confirms how the rising popularity of fake news on the internet can have the ability to set the agenda for other news outlets. Fake news has had influences in how mainstream news mediums cover fake news. Some fake news stories get so many readers that the mainstream media must address it. This was the example in 2016 with the “Pizzagate” story. After a news story that got so much coverage on social media that it drove one citizen to do some investigating. Edgar Welch drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington D.C. to rescue a so-called child-trafficking ring (Fisher, M., Cox, J. W., & Hermann, P., 2016). What was false was the rumors that he had read on the internet. Welch drove to the pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pont with an assault rifle. It was then when mainstream media picked up the story. With Welch’s actions that set the agenda on how fake news has become an issue worth addressing.
Since the mid-20th century, journalists have played the “watchdog” protecting the public from corruption and government. According to Regina Marchi, this ideal has eroded in the past decades as a result of the changing news industry (p.247). With massive budget cuts newsrooms have seen better days. Along with these cuts, there are only so much they can cover. Newsrooms have seen dwindling areas such as fact-checking, and independent research. Without these important roles in the news rooms, there is little effort to look into how the internet has produced false news reports. With a variety of sources that people get news from it is important to understand what those sources are. Now more than ever there are social media sites that allow individuals to connect with friends, family and the larger world. It is fair to say that most people get their news from their social media sites (Marchi, 2012). Six out of ten ‘millennials’ received their news from Facebook in a given week (Mitch, Gottfried & Matsa, 2015). These developments in news media would not have happened without the erosion of journalism. It is these new and free niche websites that have damaged news media.
Other issues involving fake news is how they are designed to look like websites of legit news organizations. As Abby Ohlheiser explains, fake news sites increasingly are used in misleading advertising and other internet fraud (2016). There is much profit to be made when fake news articles gain attention. The money comes from ads. Paul Horner, a Facebook-focused-fake-news writer, told the Huffington Post that he would make $10,000 a month from ads (Ohlheiser, 2016). Provided by the self-service ad companies such as Google and Facebook. There was enough evidence during the 2016 election that had many critics blaming social media sites are not doing enough to stop such news articles. It was after the election that enough attention on fake news prompted Facebook to crack down on fake news.
After America’s 2016 election many criticized social media outlets for allowing fake news stories to go viral. Since then, Facebook has taken other steps to fight the spread of misinformation (Yurieff, n.d.). In January, Facebook launched its “Journalism Project” aiming to remove stories that were false or inaccurate. Facebook has hit fake news sources in the wallet by limiting spammers’ access to buying ads that would aid their operations (Balmas, 2012, p.438). They also said they have improved literacy among its readers. The company is teaching users how to identify misleading articles better. Such seminars have been at Arizona State’s school of journalism and other journalism schools across the country. The website has also partnered with third-party fact checkers that warns users of articles that include “disputed content.” (Allcott, H, & Gentzkow, M., 2017). Facebook is not the only source of fake news.
Fake news is also a genre that can be watched, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a show that uses political satire (Holbert, 2005a). Writers for the show focused mainly on the artificiality of elected officials. Political figures in such shows are portrayed mainly as dishonest, lecherous, or even dumb (Niven, Lichter. & Amundson, 2003; Sarver, 2004). Political humor and satirical references were seen as having limited consequences. Until research by Nir & Mutz, have gained insight on possible effects on public perceptions (2010). Numerous studies that included exposure to late-night and/or fake news during an election can shape viewers’ perceptions of the candidates (Young, 2004). Further research has shown exposure can even lead to a lack of political trust (Baumgartner & Morris, 2006; Tsfati et al., 2009).
It is socially valuable when people can understand the real state of the world around them. Thus, it is important to comprehend when a source is real or fake. A large area that has not been explored in the area of fake news is who are the most prone to believing such articles. A lack of information in this area prompts my research questions.
Research Question 1: Do individuals in the U.S. perceive fake news to be an issue?
Research Question 2: What factors contribute to an individual’s perception of weather fake News is an issue?
Method
Once we crafted our research questions, we set two objectives. Our first objective was to determine whether or not and to what extent college students think of fake news as an issue. If yes, the second objective was to determine what factors or variables are the ones that contribute to students’ perceptions. The variables we used included demographics, exposure, identification, knowledge, behavior and attitudes of our sample.
The sample of our study are currently enrolled college students who attend the University of Illinois at Chicago. This study is accessible to all college students who are age 18 and over attending this 4-year institution, Participants must have access to an internet connection as a requirement.
The method of data collection for this study consisted of Internet web page surveys, specifically through convenience and snowball sampling. This kind of sampling allowed us to reach a large population of students. Conducting our research with an online questionnaire served to our advantage because this way it did not cost us much money to craft it via Qualtrics. Our web survey was also immediately accessible and allowed each respondent to input their own data and responses so that they were stored electronically. We did not have a time limit, which allowed participants to complete the survey at their own pace. Since one of our main goals was to discover and analyze perceptions, the fact that web surveys requires no interviewer served to our advantage as well. Respondents are more willing to share personal information when they are not directly disclosing that information with another person. Interviewers can also influence the responses that participants give depending on the structure of questions and we tried to prevent as many biases as possible.
The survey was shared via internet with other students and those students were also able to share the survey link with fellow peers or classmates. Since all participants are required to have an internet connection, it was only appropriate to use web surveys. With a stable connection, participants were allowed to access the web surveys on public or personal computers, smartphones or tablets.
After we decided on our instrument, we came up with a total of 23 questions and turned them into a survey. We distributed the survey online to fellow students in our classes, and by posting the survey onto Facebook. The questions were then categorized by variables, and we were able to start interpreting and understanding the data from there.
Data
This study collected data from college students at least 18 years old, by conducting a convenience sample and using the snowball sampling method we were able to collect 97 completed surveys between November 30th, 2017 and December 4th 2017. Our sample (N=97) was collected using a convenience sample, by collecting data at UIC we were most likely able to get a diverse sample due to its diverse student population.
Measures
Outcome Variables
To measure the variables in our survey we used frequency and quantity common response questions to gather information from our participants. The first piece of information requested how often do they use social media, there were 7 possible answers with the smallest amount being “once a month”, and the most being “11+ times a day”. The next 2 questions asked about fake news and its accuracy, along with a follow up question asking how often they believe they come across news stories that they believe are fake. The variables were measured on a scale of 1=Once a Month to 4=11+ Times a Day, (M=5.91, SD=1.34). With fake news being a new idea, there was no data to compare this too.
Being able to identify fake news was obtained by asking the question if they are sure in their ability to identify if fake news is made up on a scale of 1=Not at all sure to 4=Very sure (M=3.35, SD=.878). This question was asked to understand if they participants can identify fake news, then how confident in themselves are they in this ability.
Independent Variables
The following variables were indicators of whether a participant was able to accurately define fake news from definitions (82% accurately defined fake news), been exposed to news stories that are not fully accurate (92.8% have been exposed), believing that fake news is an issue (90.7% believe fake news is an issue), and could correctly identify outlets that produce fake news (66.7% correctly identified fake news outlets). We used the number of correct responses out of the total number of responses for each specific instance to present our results.
Control Variables
Demographic variables were gathered, including gender (63.9% Female, 36.1% Male); age using a scale of 1–5, 1=18–19 to 5=26+ (M=2.14, SD= .878); and race -
African-American (17.5%), Asian/Pacific Islander (12.4%), Hispanic or Latino (30.9%), White (37.1%), and Other (2.1%).
Analysis
To test both of our research questions, we conducted a regression analysis. The independent variables were organized in the following blocks: demographics, exposure, identification knowledge, behavior, and attitudes. We were then able to look at the tables and create charts to better organize our data and help us interpellate from it.
Results
Characteristics of College Students, Fake News Exposure and Knowledge
Characteristic
Mean (M)/Percentage(%)
Standard Deviation (SD)
Demographics
Age
2.14
.878
Gender
Male
36.1%
Female
63.9%
Race
Black/African-American
17.5%
White
37.1%
Hispanic or Latino
30.9%
Asian/Pacific Islander
12.4%
Other
2.1%
(Table 1)
Variable
Unstandardized Coefficients
Standardized Coefficients
T
B
Margin of Error
Constant
1.049
.571
1.837
What is your Age
.015
.067
.021
.229
How do you Identify
-.063
.131
-.049
-.481
Black
.017
.160
.01
.103
Asian
.357
.197
.188
1.815
Hispanic
.005
.146
.004
.033
How often do you use social media
-.032
.046
-.067
-.681
News Exposure
.316
.096
.313
3.292
Knowledge
-.093
.078
-.109
-1.187
Question 13
.224
.059
.356
3.794
Question 16
.110
.060
.173
1.840
Question 18
.097
.064
.135
1.502
(Table 2)
(Chart 1)
When asking our participants to define fake news, 82% of respondents could correctly define fake news.
(Chart 2)
92.8% of participants said that they have been exposed to news stories that are not fully accurate.
(Chart 3)
Approximately two thirds of participants can accurately identify which examples of news outlets were fake.
Limitations
The main sections of our research where we found limitations were in the sample and the fact that we gathered our data from an online survey. In regards to the sample, there is limited respondent availability since there was only a total size of 97 participants and very little diversity. Because we were asking our peers to take the survey, most of them were Communication majors, and around the same age range. They were also all in the same university so the educational diversity is very slim. It is much more difficult to draw a sample based on e-mail addresses or social media handles. The fact that there was also no interviewer meant that we could not receive in-depth responses from our participants. There was no way for us to ask participants directly for their reasoning of their responses.
There were also limitations in the method that we selected to retrieve our data, the web survey. We were unable to ask open-ended questions because of the survey set up, so the answers we got were mostly superficial, and we could not ask follow ups. Also, by using an online survey, we were not getting enough information from people who do not have internet access, or who did not have access during the time that our survey was available. Although that is a smaller limitation because according to Pew Research, 84% of United States adults had access to the internet in 2015.
The issue of survey fraud could be a factor in our research because there is no way to verify who is taking the survey, or if they are answering honestly. Although we did preface that the survey was for UIC students only, and we got rid of the data from anyone who too less than four minutes to complete the survey in order to reduce this fraud.
Conclusions & Contributions
According to our results, our sample demographics consisted of a majority of females. 63.9% of our sample were females and 36.1% were male. We collected a variety of different race groups. White (37.1%) and Hispanic or Latinos (30.9%) consisted of the largest groups in our sample followed by African Americans (17.5%) and Asians (12.4%). Based on the answers that respondents gave when answering the questionnaire, we discovered that 82% of the entire sample were able to correctly define fake news and 18% were not. Of our sample, 92.8% of the sample claimed to have been exposed to fake news in the past by reading an article that was not entirely accurate while 9% had never read an article with false information, In our web survey, we presented respondents with 3 news organizations or outlets. Participants were responsible for determining which news organization delivered fake news to its audience. Of our sample, 72% were able to do so correctly while 28% were not.
Based on our findings, we see that fake news is definitely an issue that is rising now more than ever along with the rise of technology. Misinformation is about the intention of the distributor. Today distributors are presenting all kinds of false information from rumors to propaganda. Distributors are able to be more strategic when delivering false news since the rise of technology makes it easy for them to do so. The harm in this process of distribution is the effects that it has on people. False news are able to cause people to change their behaviors quickly. Those misperceptions then spread through social networks and even more so when people are constantly sharing it over and over. In other words, the internet is a world we created that allows others to spread false information.
Our sample currently consists of only college students, which are receiving an education that aids in their understanding of fake news and the effects. Based on our results, we see that the majority of our sample understands what fake news is and what kinds of organizations are reliable for news information and which others are not. However, our study also suggests that there are many more people who need to be educated and informed about this issue because it is not only college students that are being exposed to it via social media platforms. All kinds of people are susceptible to misinformation. As much as the internet has developed new ways to create or share false information, it also has the tools needed to debunk it. It is important that people appropriately use online tools for fact or photo checking constantly to be able to detect fake news.

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Slacktivism is over. The #NeverAgain movement is about what’s next

Photo via Getty Images

Both Facebook, which now has more than one billion active users, and Twitter, with 500 million users, have become major hubs of American online activity. Some have claimed that this proliferation of social networks has lowered many of the barriers to civic involvement and has increased individuals’ political efficacy (Mukherjee, 2010; Flanagin et al, 2010). Although civic engagement takes many forms, its proponents have flocked to social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. Activists and organizers seek to maximize their impact, and the internet provides one such avenue. Modern activist organizations find the prospect of online activism promising and have begun to spend significant money and resources on social media. These organizations have limited supplies, so they must decide whether to focus on social media: at best, investment in online activity could bring in whole new sets of committed activists, and at worst it can distract resources that could otherwise be effective through traditional means. To make this decision, they must answer the question, “What is the role of social media in effecting social change?”

Activists are people and organizations that work to promote social or political changes, and the internet is one of many outlets for their work. As summarized by the now-cliché mantra “the internet makes everyone a publisher,” the internet has lowered the barriers to content- creation and content dissemination. Modern web technology lowers the barriers to civic engagement through technologies like listservs, social networking tools, and website creation (Kutner, 2000). Today citizen journalists document natural disasters faster than traditional media, presidential debates are moderated by YouTube.com users, lenders on Kiva.org can make personal loans to artisans in developing nations, and activists can gain support through e- petitions on Change.org. Social media has also expanded activism to new demographics such as the elderly or disabled (Mukherjee, 2010), and given voices to those in countries that have restrictive expression laws. Social networks are also effective methods for harnessing the power of these and other new volunteers and recruiting them to existing movements (Gonzalez-Bailon et al, 2011).

To skeptics of online political activity, “slacktivism” describes the replacement of effective real-world activism with ineffective online activism (Christensen, 2011). Although online civic activity is prolific, its impacts are disputed. Borge, Cardenal, and Malipica concluded that “skilled internet users do not need to be motivated or interested in politics in order to participate in at least one online political activity” (2012).

It would be nice to think we could change the world with the click of a button.

But if that was all it took, thousands of people wouldn’t have flooded the streets of cities around the country this weekend to call for gun law reform. They wouldn’t have crowded buses and crafted signs and yelled at the top of their lungs and allowed strangers to crash at their houses and squeezed their bodies next to thousands of other bodies in hopes that their collective mass could finally tip the scales of change.
They wouldn’t have shown up at all.
As the internet has reinvented the way we socialize and express ourselves, American activism has struggled to stay effective. Why march when you can share a Facebook post? After all, it’s easier to discuss your opinions online or sign a virtual petition than it is to stand in line for the voting booth or sit through a town hall meeting.
This assumption is at the heart of slacktivism, the ill-defined and pejorative term that describes social media activism carried out with little personal effort.
But in 2018, that notion is dying with every person who marches and with every student who walks out of class in defiance of gun violence. For the #NeverAgain generation, raised in the age of Columbine and hashtags, the passive gestures of social media activism are not enough. They want tangible political action.
And slacktivism, as we know it, is over.

Breaking the cycle:

The March for Our Lives crowd is distinctly bred online. It’s not just the SpongeBob memes or their Tumblr-esque homemade signs. It’s the way they organize, the way social media is used as a means rather than an end.
That in and of itself is an antidote to slacktivism, which sees no necessary action beyond a post, share or like. The #NeverAgain movement could have gone down that path — after all, it is literally a hashtag.
But in the days following the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the persistence of student activists dominated the news cycle and broke the usual pattern of inaction that has stymied gun control activists for decades.
Within days of the tragedy, students from Stoneman Douglas boarded buses and went to Tallahassee, the state’s capital, to demand action from lawmakers on gun control. The media, and the public’s attention, followed. And within weeks the #NeverAgain movement, a series of school walkouts and Saturday’s March for Our Lives rallies were already in the making.
At the March for Our Lives in Washington, Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher Darren Levine said his students’ efforts to organize the massive event were “surreal.”

Eyeing the end game:

There is no one path to change. But the reality is, in a democratic society the impact of change is ultimately measured by voices and votes.
The people behind the #NeverAgain movement have made it clear their goal is not a march, or some viral fame. It is policy change. And that requires more of everything. More time, more effort, more showing up.

“First-time voters show up 18% of the time in midterm elections. Not anymore,” Stoneman Douglas activist David Hogg said from a podium at the Washington march. “If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking. They’ve gotten used to being protective of their position, the safety of inaction.”

“We’re going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run not as politicians but as Americans. Because this,” he said gesturing to the US Capitol. “This is not cutting it.”

To this generation of activists, that four-letter word — VOTE — is a battle cry stronger than any hashtag.

“We are too young to vote,” 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas survivor Florence Yared told legislators at the Florida State House last month. “But soon we will be able to vote, and we will vote you out.”

In Washington and at gatherings across the country, volunteers for HeadCount, a nonpartisan voting rights organization, roamed the crowds registering people to vote.
Jes Distad, a HeadCount team leader, said her team registered 200 people to vote in Atlanta alone. According to Distad, dozens of people also signed up for election alerts, and even more signed up to volunteer with HeadCount at future events.

Changing minds, changing policy:

So many things have happened since February 14, and so much is left to be done. On April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine shooting, #NeverAgain activists are planning another nationwide school walkout to follow the walkouts that took place on March 14.

Policy change and increasing voter turnout in the November midterm elections are the biggest, and most complex goals. But if nothing else, the #NeverAgain movement has slowly awakened legislative conversations about gun control that had stubbornly laid dormant even through some of the nation’s worst shooting tragedies.

Gun rights advocates have tried to redirect the #NeverAgain conversation away from gun control measures and toward more gun-friendly actions, like arming teachers and increasing school security. While it’s not the priority of most #NeverAgain activists, there has been movement there as well: The US House of Representatives passed a bill to fund more security at schools, although it didn’t include any gun control measures.

 

Marching and making signs and shouting in the streets may seem fairly analog, but it’s how Americans have gotten things done for decades. It only makes sense that this kind of physical presence would be the antithesis to wishy-washy political activism that begins and ends with a timeline scroll.

At the Atlanta March for Our Lives, Rep. John Lewis stood shoulder to shoulder with the throng. Lewis, 78, was a Freedom Rider, a civil rights activist who risked his life to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, almost exactly 53 years ago. At the March for Our Lives event in Washington, the past and the future of activism — of change in America — converged in one little girl. Stoneman Douglas activist Jaclyn Corin gave the podium over to 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr.

Make no mistake, the students behind the #NeverAgain movement have succeeded in part because they stand on the shoulders of generations of activists who shrugged off the cloak of apathy, stepped out from behind the safety of platitudes and promises, and did what needed to be done.

They showed up.

References:

Mukherjee, D. (2010). An Exploratory Study of Older Adults’ Engagement with Virtual Volunteerism. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 28(3), 188-196. doi:10.1080/15228835.2010.508368

Flanagin, A. J., Flanagin, C., & Flanagin, J. (2010). Technical code and the social construction of the internet. New Media & Society, 12(2), 179. doi:10.1177/1461444809341391

Kutner, Laurie A. (2000). Environmental Activism and the Internet. Electronic Green Journal, 1(12). http://www.escholarship.org.

Mukherjee, D. (2010). An Exploratory Study of Older Adults’ Engagement with Virtual Volunteerism. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 28(3), 188-196. doi:10.1080/15228835.2010.508368

Gonzalez-Bailon, S. et al. (2011, December 15). The Dynamics of Protest Recruitment through an Online Network. Scientific Reports, 1(197). doi: 10.1038/srep00197

Christensen, H.S. (2011, February 7). Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation by Other Means? First Monday. Retrieved from: http://firstmonday.org/

Hacking Democracy

The U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that the Russian Government meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (Whitaker, 2018). They did so by leaking stolen emails and inflaming tensions on social media. Congress and Robert Mueller investigate Russian interference involving whether the campaign of Donald Trump conspired with Russia. The 2016 presidential election took the world by storm creating a key moment of the twenty-first century. There has been an array of groups who are working to make sense of this election and what it means for the future of democratic life. Lots of explanations have been created and shared through public discourse.  What has been discovered is how social media helped with such meddling. The media has a lot of control as to what viewers see and think. Such control shows how media specifically social media played an important role in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

When the internet became a mass consumer-oriented media in the mid-1990s, tremendous hype surrounded its potential for realizing a new form of political participation (Boczkowski, & Papacharissip, 2018). Many early internet advocates saw the rise of social media as the ultimate delivery into the public sphere. Early supporters saw online communities as enabling a powerful form of bottom-up democratic participation that could challenge traditional forms of journalism. After the outcome of the 2016 election, many surprised political pundits, progressives and liberals scrambled to identify culprits

In addition to challenging the value of the Electoral College some questioned the role fake new played in the spread of disinformation. Experts point to suggest that the internet has played an integral role in the false sharing of information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.  The defeat of Clinton at the hands of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has generated an outcry from scholars who point to the role of social media in influencing the results of the election (Boczkowski, & Papacharissip, 2018). Arguments as to why social media might have contributed to President Trump’s election have included the sway of fake news articles, algorithms that create filter bubbles, the influence of strong political opinions expressed through social media and how social media sorts people into echo chambers that limit their exposer to different points of view (Boczkowski, & Papacharissip, 2018). No one is immune to these points of view.

Social media has generated a new medium that has changed mainstream media. Now anyone can document information and share it with the masses. Social media sites can often be used as the medium that users can post and share whatever they want. In some cases, users might be sharing information that might be misleading in nature without even knowing. Stories created with the intention to deceive are called fake news (Jack, 2017).  Fake news is not something new. However, it has been a phrase that has had much attention recently. Donald Trump and his team quickly repurposed the term by calling several mainstream news outlets such as CNN, and the New York Times (Boczkowski, & Papacharissip, 2018).  The problem of fake news has become a large issue in an era of social media. Lots of information that people come across on social media may appear to be true but, often are not (“Explained: What Is Fake News,” 2018).  An issue with social media sites is that they allow users to share and post information that can be distributed to a large number of people that sometimes are not true. There is also a growing concern as to how to control fake news stories. Social media sites such as Facebook have been called on to stop such stories from being shared on their site.

Facebook officials revealed that during the run-up to the election they had several hundred accounts that they believe were created by a Russian company (Shane, S., & Goel, 2017). The company was linked to the Russian government that bought $100,000 in ad space pushing disruptive ads during and after the election (Shane, S., & Goel, 2017). On both Facebook and Twitter, Russian trolls were shown using automated accounts called bots, who sent out divisive messages against Democrats, particularly in opposition. While on Twitter, hundreds of accounts were used to spread anti-Clinton messages as well as share leaked material obtained by Russian hackers (Shane, S., & Goel, 2017). Research by FireEye found messages that showed “clear signs of intermittent human control” (Shane, S., & Goel, 2017).  One giveaway was when hundreds of accounts tweeted within seconds of each other and were sent out in alphabetical order. Lee Foster leads the FireEye team which is examining Russian interference whose team discovered hundreds of accounts tweeting #WarAgainstDemocrats. Most of the accounts that tweeted that hashtag had been hijacked or fraudulent. One Twitter user named Rachel Usedom had her account taken over and renamed @ClintonCurruption.  She did not even know that it happened until she was told by Twitter officials. Twitter, unlike Facebook, does not require real names and does not prohibit automated accounts (Shane, S., & Goel, 2017). Therefore, allowing Russian bots to send tweets out on a massive scale.

Thirteen Russian nationals have been charged with illegally trying to disrupt the 2016 elections (Shane, S., & Goel, 2017). Some of the ways they did so were with fraudulent social media accounts, creating political rallies, and online political advertisement. The individuals in question have been charged with creating hundreds of social media accounts and impersonating fictitious Americans. Also, in the indictment which stated that they staged political rallies around the country from June to November (Parlapiano, & Lee, 2018). The rallies were promoted through social media channels which were accounts registered under fake American aliases. The indictment also points to the group who paid for advertisements on social media (Parlapiano, & Lee, 2018). They expressively supported Donald Trump and opposed Hillary Clinton.

American democracy has been struck by changes in media technology (Allcot & Gentzknow, 2017). In the new millennium, the growth of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has a different structure than previous media technologies. Users can spread content with no significant third-party filtering, fact-checking, or editorial judgment (Allcot & Gentzknow, 2017). The ability to share anything online in some cases allow false or conspiracy-driven news to the masses. One extreme example of this occurred during the election. Conspiracy theorists spread a story about Hillary Clinton over blogs and other forms of social media. The internet allowed such a story to spread rapidly through its interconnected structure. Conspiracy theories are defined by Keeley (1999) as “a proposed explanation of some historical event (or events) regarding the significant causal agency of relatively small group of persons—the conspirators—acting in secret.” The conspiracy theory shared was known as Pizzagate. The main theory revolved around a claim that Clinton was involved in a child sex ring operation at the Comet Ping Pong in Washington, DC (Marwick, & Lewis, n.d., p.6). The story gained traction after evidence was discovered that Clinton sometimes goes to that restaurant. Further, WikiLeaks published hacked emails from the Clinton campaign that included conversations with the restaurant’s owner about a fundraiser for the Clinton campaign (Marwick, & Lewis, n.d., p.7). The conspiracy theorists along with people who shared the story fueled such allegations that can be categorized as disinformation. Disinformation is information that is shared deliberately to mislead readers. Disinformation in some cases create propaganda.

Propaganda is designed in order to shape and alter attitudes and behaviors. Fake news grew in attention during the election. Fake news after the election had been identified as misleading propaganda that spread through social media. Apart from Russia’s complex propaganda system including bots, teams of paid human trolls, and networks of websites that were linked to their right-wing agenda (Timberg, 2018). Russia has denied any involvement in the meddling in the 2016 election.

Confidently the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency jointly stated with “high confidence” that the Russian government ordered an influence campaign during the election. Since the election, many have argued that social media played an integral role in exposing people to fake news. The victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 election reflects a troubling combination of rising trends in political communication namely, the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, propaganda, and fake news.  These developments are worrisome because they stand in opposition to central principles of democracy. The internet has fundamentally transformed the way people receive information. One downfall that social media brings is that it allows content to be shared easily with a large number of people. A lesson that was learned from the 2016 election is that some news stories are deliberately written to deceive. Another kind of fake news is known as disinformation which was shared on Facebook and Twitter to change people’s opinion about a candidate. The information that was shared was done by the use of bots. Bots had a large role to play in the run-up to the election. Many hundred fake accounts were used to spread pro-Trump propaganda. In an era of new media, journalism is not dead. There is a need to adapt to changes that social media brings.  The changes happening in the news industry is brought on by rapid advances in technology that should not be seen as a threat to mainstream media but instead complementary.

References:

Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. doi:10.3386/w23089

Boczkowski, P. J., & Papacharissi, Z. (2018). Trump and the media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

“Explained: What Is Fake News? | Social Media and Filter Bubbles.” Webwise.ie, 27 Mar. 2018, www.webwise.ie/teachers/what-is-fake-news/.

Fixmer-Oraiz, N., & Wood, J. T. (2015). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture (Twelfth ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage.

Jang, S. M., & Oh, Y. W. (2016). Getting attention online in election coverage: Audience selectivity in the 2012 US presidential election. New Media & Society,18(10), 2271-2286. doi:10.1177/1461444815583491

Jenkins, Henry 2006a, Convergence culture: When old and new media collide, New York University Press, New York.

Keeley, Brian L. 1999. “of Conspiracy Theories.” Journal of Philosophy 96 (3): 109-26

Marwick, A., & Lewis, R. (n.d.). Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online | Data & Society. Retrieved April 8, 2018, from https://datasociety.net/pubs/oh/DataAndSociety_CaseStudies-MediaManipulationAndDisinformationOnline.pdf

Parlapiano, A., & Lee, J. C. (2018, February 17). The Propaganda Tools Used by Russians to Influence the 2016 Election. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/16/us/politics/russia-propaganda-election-2016.html

Participatory culture. (2018, March 15). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_culture

Shane, S. (2017). The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/us/politics/russia-facebook-twitter-election.html

Shane, S., & Goel, V. (2017, September 06). Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/technology/facebook-russian-political-ads.html

Timberg, C. “Russian Propaganda Effort Helped Spread ‘fake News’ during Election, Experts Say.” The Washington Post. November 24, 2016. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/russian-propaganda-effort-helped-spread-fake-news-during-election-experts-say/2016/11/24/793903b6-8a40-4ca9-b712-716af66098fe_story.html?utm_term=.1d05f08b7499.

Whitaker, B. (Writer). (2018, April 4). 60 Minutes [Television series episode]. New York, NewYork: CBS.

Top 10 Restaurants That Any Foodie Would Love

Located at the center of America’s agricultural heartland and bordering the nation’s great waterways, Chicago is one of the world’s great food cities. Like many cities, they are blessed with the abundance of many different cultures that brings diverse cuisine. From the pizza to the hotdogs, from the hamburgers to polish sausage, there is lots to love about Chicago’s food. If you find yourself asking “where is a good place to eat,” here are the top 10 I would recommend.

The Hidden Connection Between Domestic Abuse and Mass Shootings

In Texas and beyond, mass shootings have roots in domestic violence. In 2017, mass shootings in America reached an all-time high. With each shooting brings an outcry of support for gun laws. A shooter’s mind is an unsolvable riddle: nobody can seem to predict who the next one will be. There is, however, a trend that can look at one quality that many shooters have that has been overlooked.

Mass shootings have become all too familiar in America, such as the one that occurred in Texas during November that claimed 26 lives. Or a month earlier in Las Vegas where the shooter killed 58 people. In the wake of each massacre, many people are asking why. A large portion of mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years have roots in domestic violence. It was reported the gunman in Texas assaulted his wife and their young children in 2012. It is also interesting to look at how perpetrators of domestic violence during 2009 and 2016 accounted for 54 percent of mass shootings.

Looking at an analysis of Google search on Google Trends, both of the shootings mentioned in this article have spikes when searching both “mass shootings” and “domestic violence.” Locating the dates of both the Texas (October) and Las Vegas (November) shootings show spikes on the day of each shooting. Also, while the search for domestic violence also spiked. Looking at the image of the United States, shows that “domestic violence” dominated search visits compared to “mass shootings” in 2017. It is a good sign that people are finally making connections between these occurrences as apparent in the graphs below.  For the future, domestic violence should not be forgotten when it comes to policies on owning a gun.

Practice Story

Pat Quinn photo

Gov. Pat Quinn talks about MAP grants at DePaul University. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on Dec. 12, 2012 and is housed at RedLineProject.org. It’s been repurposed with permission for this assignment:

By Bob Smith

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past, but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.”
MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.
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