Fake: Searching for Truth in the Age of Misinformation, an original documentary series from Connecticut Public, premieres Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 8 p.m. on CPTV, streaming on this page and on CPTV Passport.

“Fake news.” You’ve probably heard that term before. But what does “fake news” really mean?

At a time when the 24-hour news cycle reaches far beyond print and an endless trove of information is accessible with the click of a mouse, how can the average person learn to separate fact from fiction? And what does this mean for our democracy if we cannot grasp this important skill?

In Fake: Searching for Truth in the Age of Misinformation, you’ll learn how and why misinformation spreads and how media literacy creates smarter citizens in an increasingly digital world.

What Is “Fake News?”

“Fake news” may look like news reporting but actually consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes. It can spread via print, broadcast, digital, and social media, and can originate with individuals, organizations, or even governments.

What Is Media Literacy?

According to the Center for Media Literacy, “[Media literacy] provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet.”* Media literacy skills help citizens become informed and think critically about the news and other online information they are consuming. (*Source: Center for Media Literacy/medialit.org)

Why Is Media Literacy Important?

In the digital age, anyone can create and disseminate media – sometimes in ways that are both convincing and deceiving. Understanding the source of information is critically important to determining the credibility of the information. Knowing how to decipher source, messaging, and purpose is a critical skill for adults and children in the digital environment and beyond.


About the Documentary Series:

Given the sheer volume of news available, how can the average person separate fact from fiction? The daily avalanche of legitimate news from social media, cable TV, and endless websites often includes news reports that look real but are actually jokes, hoaxes, or fake news designed and written to appear authentic. In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, the United States is headed into what could be one of the most extraordinary years of claims and counter-claims, misinformation, and renewed emphasis on a media and digital literacy.

Fake news isn’t new, but it now spreads quickly through social media. Readers remain the first line of defense against the dissemination of these bogus reports. So, how do you spot a fake? Contemporary media literacy programs have attempted to give the public the tools they need to dissect breaking news, evaluate partisan content, and utilize critical thinking before adopting radical stances.

As we examine the role of education in the lives of our children, we must also reconsider its position in the lives of our parents and grandparents who have witnessed the drastic shift from a print culture to a social media culture, vulnerable to similar threats. What is safe and what is dangerous in the media? And how do we equip citizens with tools to discern the difference? Our story draws from common sense, critical thinking skills, and universal standards of journalism in order to give viewers the tools to discern fact from fiction in news reports, identify fake news, and evaluate the biases of real news.

About the Episodes:

EPISODE ONE: SMOKE AND MIRRORS
While much public and media attention in recent years has focused on foreign attempts to influence the results of U.S. elections, the fact is, actors like Russia and Iran are not the only players we need to worry about. If anything, domestic actors are poised to be the bigger information threat.

For years, Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, peddled a conspiracy theory about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Jones has repeatedly claimed the massacre was a “giant hoax” carried out by “crisis actors” in a broad scheme to trample on Second Amendment rights. How could some Americans believe such a conspiracy? Studies in psychology consistently find that when a lie gets repeated, it’s slightly more likely to be misremembered as truth. It’s called the “illusory truth effect.” It’s a tendency the whole news media — as well as consumers of news — should be wary of.

EPISODE TWO: FACT-CHECKING
In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, the United States is headed into what could be one of the most extraordinary years of claims and counter-claims, misinformation, and a renewed emphasis on fact-checking.  If the 2016 election was any indication, professional journalists need to do better when it comes to reporting the news.

Made-up news isn’t new, but it now spreads quickly through social media. Readers remain the first line of defense against the dissemination of these bogus reports. So, how do you spot a fake? The news media should provide readers, viewers, and listeners with more context for stories, rather than presenting a point and counterpoint without any analysis. Context encourages the viewer to connect and engage with the information and, often, the context is more important than the event itself.

EPISODE THREE: A POWERFUL TOOL

Media literacy, defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication, has become a necessity to survive in modern culture.  Not only does it provide powerful tools to decipher the meaning and engage with technology, but it has also become imperative to ensuring children’s safety in uncharted media territories, like the digital realm.

As we examine the role of media literacy in the lives of our children, we must also reconsider its position in the lives of our parents and grandparents who have witnessed the drastic shift from a print culture to a social media culture, and are vulnerable to similar threats. What is safe and what is dangerous in the media? And how do we equip youth with tools to discern the difference?

EPISODE FOUR: THE ENEMY WITHIN

Gun control. Immigration. Abortion. Many of the world’s most pressing disputes have been labeled eternally enigmatic, as if we’re meant to just surrender, allowing problems to exponentially worsen because society’s brilliant minds can’t reach consensus. Too many factors, too many viewpoints, too many arguments. But what if there were right answers? What if they’ve been right here, under our noses all this time, and we’ve been too busy trying to prove ourselves right to notice?

Confirmation bias is an isolated focus on evidence that confirms our existing personal beliefs while failing to acknowledge any proof to the contrary. It’s the reason we can’t make important decisions and it leaves us vulnerable to fear-mongering. Being open to new ideas, arguments, and viewpoints is essential to understanding the whole picture.

EPISODE FIVE: FAKE NEWS, REAL MONEY

Tech giants like Facebook and Google are increasingly under scrutiny for supporting and benefiting from the “fake news economy.” Meanwhile, legitimate local news organizations, which often rely on similar ad-supported infrastructure and industries for their livelihoods, are suffering. But what is the role of the consumers and advertisers in this complex ecosystem?

According to a recent report, online fake news now costs the global economy $78 billion annually. The fake news factory model is so successful because it can be easily replicated, streamlined, and requires very little expertise to operate.

EPISODE SIX: HUMAN vs. MACHINE

Although we have not yet realized the true potential of artificial intelligence, the future holds strong possibilities for more sophisticated tools to harness the power of AI, big data, and machine learning to stop fake news.

As the volume of data grows, so does the chance of handling misinformation that challenges both the machine and human ability to uncover the truth. Researchers and entrepreneurs are working against the clock to understand how humans can most effectively augment machines, and how machines can enhance what humans do best.


Thinkalong™ Supports Media Literacy in Connecticut Classrooms

Teachers are on the front lines of media literacy training, and Connecticut Public has developed an essential tool to help them train the next generation of students how to separate fact from fiction.

Thinkalong is a free, online program that uses trusted PBS, NPR, and local public media content to help students think critically about media, develop informed opinions, and practice respectful, civil discourse.

If you’re interested in using Thinkalong™ in your classroom, contact Rose Pierre-Louis via email at rpierre-louis@ctpublic.org, or visit thinkalong.org.