On Feb. 17, Donald Trump tweeted that the media is the “enemy of the American people.” One week later, his administration barred journalists from major media outlets from a White House press briefing. He routinely calls stories “fake news” when they are merely stories that he does not like. A free and critical press is an essential institution in our democracy. How did we get to this point?
As the false stories circulating on social media during the last election prove, many of us do not know how to distinguish reality from fantasy when it comes to news. The benefits of social media platforms like Facebook are undeniable: we can stay connected to family, friends and community like never before. The drawbacks are evident when it becomes a major source of factual information. And this has already happened – according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, 62 percent of adults get their news from social media.
This is troubling because on Facebook, anyone with a profile can post content. There is no editor who can say, “This post, which is designed to look like a legitimate news article, is completely false. We should delete this.” Because fake news is designed to elicit an emotional reaction, we share it instantly, in shock and outrage, and a viral – but fabricated – story is born.
What can we do to combat fake news? I suggest we supplement our social media diet with two things: local news and your local library.
Many of us are skeptical of the national media, and not without good reason. It can be biased, sloppy and ratings-driven. And since it covers events that are far-removed from our own lives, we feel we can’t know what really happened. But local news sources cover events that happen in our own communities – even events that we have experienced ourselves. It is easier to see that a local newspaper has covered a story as it actually occurred. And if it fails to do so, go ahead and call it out. Anyone can write a letter to the editor, who is often eager to engage with her readers. It’s democracy in action.
Libraries can help you learn to identify fake news and point you in the direction of better sources. Librarians have been helping people think critically about information for decades. As a librarian myself, I can evaluate an article in my sleep – who’s the author, what’s the motivation, who paid for it, are sources attributed? This process should be second nature for all news consumers.
In fact, journalists and librarians are natural allies. The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Public Library are partnering on a project they call “Storytellers Without Borders.” High school students work with reporters to learn interviewing, writing and video production skills. They also team up with librarians to learn to conduct in-depth research.
We need projects like this to foster positive experiences with the media and develop lifelong analytical skills. Let’s remember that these cherished American institutions are not “the enemy.”
This article was first published in the March 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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