The term ‘fake news’ has been talked about nonstop in the media and in the national political sphere for the past couple of years. However, many people do not know how to determine what is factually true and what is not. Diane Dunlap teaches English Language Advanced Integrated Skills (ELAI 990) at Montgomery College’s Germantown Campus, a class for non- native speakers of English that focuses on writing, reading, speaking and listening skills. She has been providing her students with resources to be more critical news media consumers this past semester. For some of the 17 students from 14 different countries, the idea of fake news is a new concept, she said.
The discussion started by addressing fake news and segued into media bias and filter bubbles, which is the process of consuming and sharing information that only confirms the person’s point of view.
“Any reliable news outlet, whether center-left or center-right, is going to confirm the facts before they do something, otherwise it is fake news. And if you are getting your news from social media you might end up getting it from a source that simply is not true,” Dunlap said. “We practiced analyzing the source. The library has a site for identifying fake news so we explored that and we had a lesson from the librarian.”
Some of the steps to determine if a news source is reliable, she said, is to check the URL, the About Us section and contact information, as well as the journalist’s credentials.
You have to be a smart consumer. Part of what needs to happen is we need to educate people about the way the media works
Dunlap took her class to the Presidential Dialogue event between Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard and WAMU’s Joshua Johnson back in March, where he discussed American identity and values, public discourse, social media and freedom of the press. “Figuring out how to make sense of what is real and what is not and figuring out which news sources to believe, that’s the hard part,” Johnson said. “You have to be a smart consumer. Part of what needs to happen is we need to educate people about the way the media works so they understand how it happens. If it doesn’t work for you, you can leave it out or you can consume it, but put it in context.” He added that the idea that newspapers (or media in general) have to be objective is recent in historic terms; newspapers were known to have a bias in American journalism.
Dunlap said many of her students were surprised that the media sources they were used to listening to were biased and they had not realized it. “They assumed that anything on a national newspaper was true and took it at face value, and that everything was objective and they were surprised to find that media outlets were not completely objective,” she said.
As the semester wrapped up, students said the class had provided them with tools going forward.
“It can be deceiving to see information on social media; we tend not to check the sources. Now I do not automatically believe what I am seeing, I check other sources,” Rebecca Mensah said. She has even been encouraging relatives to do the same.
“It was great. I learned that before sharing something you need to make sure the source is correct, check the author, and the contact information,” Maha Shahab, a student, said. She is now also asking relatives and friends to verify their sources before they share news.
Vanessa Jarrin, another student, felt the same way: “I used to not check sources and sometimes I had to ask others if it was true. Now I have learned how to determine the outlet’s bias so I can have my own opinion and learn to differentiate. There is so much information on social media that you have to choose what to trust.”