New UC course helps students determine what is 'fake news'

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - "Fake news" is a term that's been made mainstream by President Donald Trump.

But fabricated news goes beyond a catch phrase and can even manipulate the way we think.

In fact, the issue is such a growing problem, the University of Cincinnati offered a brand new class this semester to incoming freshman called Post Truth & Fake News Challenges for Communication Politics in Journalism.

The name of the class is about as complicated as its subject, but the goal is simple: get students to understand why fake news is generated, by whom and to learn how to spot it.

Dr. Richard Harknett, UC's political science department head, tries to simplify the cyber strategy behind fake news.

"Before I started the class, I thought fake news was the radical fake news, very clearly fake," said UC student Alexis Tope.

"We've had fake news around for a long time, its propaganda, its lies and deceit," said Dr. Jeff Blevins, head of journalism at UC.

He teaches the course in tandem with Dr. Harknett and UC's head of communications.

Dr. Blevins says now, fake stories are disguised as legitimate news on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"We went through different posts on Twitter and I pointed out which ones were fake," he said.

But Dr. Blevins says most students couldn't tell the difference.

"A lot of times, that's the basis people are using to measure truth: 'Well, this is something I saw many people re-tweeting and repeating it, so it must be true.'"

"When you see something trending, that's where most people are going and from a democratic institutional stand point, that's a good thing," said Dr. Harknett. "You want to pick up on the vibe of where the people are. But if I can come in and exploit that media in such a way that it's technically manipulated, it's not really the people or the majority view, it's a bot net that's doing this, then suddenly how we view social media, the whole notion of trending blows up."

"The greater concern for a lot of us is this idea of post truth, if nothing is true then how do we criticize power?" said Dr. Blevins. "How do we criticize government? To me, that's a more troubling problem than fake news."

As the US and social media giants figure out a way to fight back, these students are being taught tools to be more resilient, how to distinguish credible sources and cross-check information.

The reality, says Dr. Harknett, growing cyber persistence from bot nets worldwide show no signs of slowing down.

"If you can't compete with the US economically or militarily then one of the ways you could affect them is internally hamstring them," said Dr. Harknett,

By influencing the way Americans think and feel; both professors agree, to prevent fake news from messing with our mind, they hope this new found literacy spreads outside the classroom.

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