On the Daily: Fake news travels fast

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 3:13pm

study by researchers at Oxford University in London found Twitter feeds in the state of Michigan were filled with fake or untrustworthy news accounts before and after the 2016 presidential election.

The researchers stated that between Nov. 1 and Nov. 11, fake news was as common as professional news content shared on Twitter feeds. A total of 46.5 percent of the content appearing in Michigan as political news was “of an untrustworthy provenance or falls under the definition of propaganda based on its use of language and emotional appeals,” according to the study.

“The proportion of professional news content being shared hit its lowest point the day before the election,” the paper reads.

President Donald Trump won Michigan’s electoral votes by a margin of 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton. According to the study, the “junk news” also appeared in several battleground states, including Wisconsin. Whether they had any influence on the results in unknown.

The study included 138,686 tweets from accounts claiming to be “Michigan users,” with more than twice as many tweets featuring pro-Trump hashtags as pro-Clinton ones. Researchers admitted one limitation of the study was its inability to use tweets without pro-Trump or Clinton hashtags.

Though U.S. intelligence officials state election results were not hacked by Russian Intelligence, the ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Russia might have used "internet trolls" to put out alleged fake news in Michigan and other swing states.

“It’s been reported to me — and we’ve got to find this out — whether they were able to in effect (target) specific areas in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D–Va.) told The Detroit News.

Schools like the University of Michigan are taking measures to spread awareness of fake news in the media. In fall 2017, a one-credit class titled "Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction" will be offered to undergraduate students, aiming to dispel biases about the news and teaching students how to look at media with a more critical eye.

Though the topic of fake news has been widely discussed in the context of the current political climate, Doreen Bradley, the University’s director of learning programs and initiatives, and one of the four designers of the course, said in a March interview the course has broader roots.

“I think the whole political environment kind of raised the issue even more, but our sense was that this was a needed issue even before the political turmoil of the fall,” Bradley said. “It will include things, obviously, related to politics, but we really want to focus on things like if you get something about health news, how do you know if you can rely on that health news? So we really want to make it a course that applies to students’ entire lives.”