Fake news lecture draws a large crowd of students

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Professor encourages students to engage in critical thinking on social media news.

By Janie Medelez


A free press has a role in reporting and interpreting things that happen, history Professor Sean Duffy, said to about 75 students Nov. 20 at the Wesley Foundation.

People have to be able to discern what is and what is not true, he said.

“When I first came into academia, I didn’t think I came in fully formed knowing how to analyze information critically,” Duffy said.

I had to learn those skills. It just didn’t come naturally. I had to apply certain tools to use and it made me realize, hey, maybe that’s not real.”

“The reporter is one who each 24 hours dictates a first draft of history,” he said, referring to a quote by the late Douglass Cater, U.S. educator and author.

Newspapers are important to historians, he said.

“We are in what is considered an era of post-truth. We are having an assault on the truth as what we can perceive as the truth,” Duffy said. “There’s a difference between opinion and actual truth.”

John Peter Zenger fought for the privilege to report on the actual behaviors, actions of the government, not in a salacious manner like fake stuff but legitimate actions, he said.

Zenger, a German immigrant printed the The New York Weekly Journal, in 1733 accused the governor in print of rigging elections and allowing the French enemy to explore New York harbor.

Zengar was arrested and accused of Libel.

His case established truth as a defense for libel according to the website U.S. History at ushistory.org.

“One thing we can all agree on whether you support President Trump or you do not support President Trump, He is a unique president that we have.” Duffy said. We haven’t had a president like him in America history.”

He noted the term nattering nabobs of negativity used by Vice President Spiro Agnew during Richard Nixon’s presidency to describe issues with the press at that time similar to fake news with the present administration.

“Whether you like Trump or you don’t like Trump, you have to realize, he is media savvy. I’ll be honest with you, I am not a Trump supporter,” Duffy said. I do give him credit for understanding how to play the media like a violin. He knows that really, really, well.”

Out of 180 countries in 2018, the U.S. ranked at 45th place in Freedom For the Press, according to the website Reporters without Borders at rsf.org.

In 2017 it ranked 43 dropping two points, referring to President Trump voicing his opinion on the press being the enemy of the people.

He outlined the complexity of multiple media sources available now compared to the limited news channels during Nixon’s presidency.

Social media is one of them.

“People are constantly being bombarded with stories, post and pictures,” he said.

Deepfake is another real concern and it’s probably going to get worse. People are going to start having the capability of making very realistic videos, he said.

Deepfake is an artificial intelligence-based technology used to produce or alter video content so that it presents something that didn’t occur.

Deeplearning and fakes is portmanteau for the word Deepfakes, which applies to both the technologies and the videos created with it.

It’s much like Photoshop, in the movie “Forrest Gump” which inserts the action into historical news footage.

He noted the 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles as the most famous example of fake history that terrified thousands of Americans who perceived as reality.

The broadcast aired Oct. 30, 1938, and dramatized an invasion of New Jersey by aliens from Mars.

“It really happened but was fake,” Duffy said.

He presented a slide of a meme as an example of fake content he believed was true and passed it along on social media. It was a quote attributed to President Trump in People magazine in 1998 saying “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They love anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”

Trump never said this.

Snopes is the internet’s fact-checking resource.

Even a professor can be tricked by meme’s in today’s fake news, he said.

People are taking satire as truth and not understanding the differences.

Satire is literary used as a form to ridicule conduct or expose someone of foolishness or vice in humans, organizations, and even on governments.

A writer may use Satire towards an individual or a country in a form of a caricature to point out foolishness or shortcomings.

He defines celebrities as news distractors.

They’re junk news that distracts from important stories, he said.

“I think the best example right now is Kanye West.

Outside of his music, he is clearly a great musical artist but outside of that people shouldn’t listen to what a lot of celebrities have to say,” Duffy said.

News disappears because people are distracted by celebrity news.

Sometimes fluff has to be put up to attract eyeballs to the screen and people miss the biggest stories that have the greatest impact on them, he said.

He demonstrated a fake video that went viral with teenager Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor advocate for gun control ripping the Constitution.

Referring to the deepfake news and how it’s just going to get worse.

The doctored animation portrayed Gonzalez as anti-American by showing her ripping the Constitution but what she was really ripping was a gun-range target.

One of the ways to tell if it’s a fake video is by looking at the eyes.

The eye movement is one of the most difficult things to fake, he said.

There are a lot of people taking images from Google and they’re pasting them together to make fake videos.

Look for sources and citations for the information.

“Not Wikipedia for resources,” Duffy said.

With a slide presentation, he explained how Wikipedia claimed that Steve Pearce, a baseball left fielder for the Boston Red Sox was the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the new mayor of Los Angeles, which was not true.


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