Pharaoh Ramses II erected monuments to boast about wars and lands he had conquered, but nearly 3,000 years later, English scientists discovered that he had falsely depicted history to boost his reputation. This was the earliest historical instance of fake news, according to librarian Joyce Garczynski of Towson University.
More than 70 people came to listen to her presentation, arranged by the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland (FJWOM), titled “Fake News: Separating Fact from Fiction” Nov. 7 at Har Sinai – Oheb Shalom.
Guests came with questions about how to discern truth from fiction and concerns about the future of journalism.
“Our role is to be a resource, and this is a good way to give nonpartisan information,” said Linda Boteach, president of the Jewish women’s federation.
“I don’t believe there’s so much fake news so much as skewed writing,” said Shulamit Finkelstein, co-chair of the convention committee in FJWOM.
“I believe reporters are no longer objective. I spoke to a reporter about the choice of coverage, and she said, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ I was so disappointed.”
The term fake news gained popularity in 2016 when Paul Horner of the National Report told CNN, “All news is fake news,” said Garczynski.
It now has multiple connotations, she said, but usually means “fabricated information that is deceptive for a purpose.”
Readers are susceptible to trusting news easily because “we are programmed to make shortcuts,” she continued. A brain quickly identifies and generalizes to save time.
Garczynski shared a video of “deep fakes,” or computer-generated videos. Using photo data of a person’s face, footage can be created showing someone saying something they’ve never said.
The first solution to the problem of fake news, according to Garcyznski, is to stop using the term. There must be a separation between misinformation, which implies intent, and disinformation, which could be accidentally false.
Additionally, journalists must “fact-check, be transparent, and engage the community,” said Garczynski.
“Long ago, newscasters spoke objectively, like Walter Cronkite. Now, it’s left or right. You either support Trump or not,” interjected an audience member.
Readers must take responsibility too, Garczynski carried on.
She showed the group a widely-circulated “media bias chart,” which places various news outlets on a scale of left to right. From her perspective, charts like these “abdicate responsibility.” Writers from any outlet can be more or less objective, so readers should analyze every source.
An audience member commented sarcastically that “[we] can put men on the moon but not resources to overcome countries infiltrating our technology” to deceive the public.
“To ask the government to fix it is like letting the fox in the henhouse,” Garczynski responded.
Finally, she concluded with the observation that the best solution is to educate.
“Revive school libraries, integrate media literacy,” she said. “We need to be able to slow down and take in information, read before we share, look at who wrote it, what else do they write.”
She concluded her presentation with a link to fact check the sources she used: Towson.libguides.com/fakenews.
Before the presentation, Girl Scouts of USA Ambassador Rachel Katzenberg talked about her work with Days for Girls. She won the gold award for her project, which brings menstrual care to countries where girls often are forced to miss school during their period.
Katzenberg brought along her mentor, Days for Girls Baltimore Team Leader Mollie Lang.
“My take-away is [recognizing fake news] is about education and critical thinking; how to do proper research, read a headline,” said Lang. “I am trained to read primary sources, peer reviewed science literature, to look for multiple research.” Her friend once sent her an article that claimed Congress passed a bill to allow tracking of veterans. She looked at the website, the author, and then the law. The bill itself had actually been about medical devices.
“I voted for Trump, but if there’s something for or against him [on Facebook] I don’t ‘like’ any post, no political post at all,” shared audience member Sheila Joy. “I don’t know which is fake, I don’t have a lot of time, you know?
“I really don’t think Russia is involved though, you know, there’s enough people in America, you know? There’s enough people already!”