PublicSource director discusses ‘fake news’ at USC Library

A Pittsburgh journalist gave a presentation to help people recognize what 'fake news' really is.

Mila Sanina Photo:Courtesy of PublicSource.org

Over the past year, the term “fake news” has evolved into a meme.

To explain what “fake news” actually is and how to defend against it, Mila Sanina, executive director of PublicSource, recently spoke to a group at Upper St. Clair Library about the term that describes false news stories or poor journalism.

“As technology has increased, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to know what’s real and what’s fake,” said Sanina, who works for the Pittsburgh-based investigative news source. “I’ve been in journalism for 12 years,” said Sanina, who has previously been a journalist at CNN International, PBS Newshour and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “No one was talking about Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. I would’ve never thought to see how it has affected the newsroom.”

Rather than discussing partisan politics, Sanina explained in the Sept. 20 presentation what “fake news” is and isn’t, providing specific examples.

Sanina said it comes in two main forms. The first is “shoddy reporting posing as real journalism,” and the second is “hyper-partisan” opinions. It can sometimes be completely false or will “distort” facts, she said.

“I’m not talking about news that you disagree with. That’s not fake news,” Sanina said.

Sanina shared several studies about “fake news,” including a a BuzzFeed analysis after the 2016 election found that there was more “fake news” than real news leading up to the election.

Sanina explained why some people produce such false stories, including Paul Horner, who was known as a contributor for his own “fake news” websites before his Sept. 18 death. The New York Times confirmed Horner died from an apparent drug overdose.

She also gave attendees some popular examples, such as a picture of a shark in water on a highway, which was fabricated, that has gone viral during most recent hurricanes in the United States.

A website that has gained some traction on social media and often produces falsehoods is RT.com., which stands for “Russia Today,” and is a propaganda website for the Kremlin, Sanina said.

Sanina said to combat the problem, news consumers need to “recognize we are part of the problem and take time to think critically about the information we’re consuming.” She also said it is critical for people to “get out of their bubble” and not only consume news that aligns with their identity or beliefs.

Sanina also gave nine techniques or tools in her PowerPoint for news consumers to enhance their media literacy.

• Consider the media organization and its biases.

• Go to the “about” section of the news organization to understand its values.

• Research the credibility of the author of the article.

• Analyze the sourcing in the story and whether or not it’s proper.

• Pay attention to the date of the original article.

• Check other media outlets for similar stories.

• Think about the political framing of the story.

• Visit Snopes.com as a source that combats falsehoods.

• Read the story, not just the headline, and don’t share without reading the story.

Sanina doesn’t believe there’s a magic bullet formula to ending “fake news,” but rather a collective effort from news consumers.

“Then some people ask, ‘Do you police the internet?” Sanina said. “No, because this is a mechanism for us to disseminate free speech.”