There is so much talk about "fake news" in the media that it's time to take a closer look. Michael Miller does in this new book.
by Michael Miller
112 pages; ages 12-18
Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner), 2019
Fake news is real and it matters, writes Michael Miller. The term “fake news” has been applied to stories that pose as news but are untrue and deliberately designed to mislead. But in recent years some people – especially those in power – are using the label “fake news” to cast doubt on legitimate news stories. Especially when those stories are critical of their policies.
But fake news isn’t always political. There are false medical as well as stories aimed at businesses. Maybe you heard that you could cure diabetes by eating carrots, that an X-box console killed a teen, or that a particular brand of bottled water contained “clear parasites” that no one could see.
Fake news isn’t new; it’s been around since the time of the Romans, when a senator read a false document accusing a military general of being a traitor. And, of course, fake news was a “vital part of spreading anti-Semitism in Germany before and during World War II,” writes Miller.
Why should teens care about fake news? Because a democratic society depends on educated voters, and relies on a free press to hold elected leaders accountable to the public. A free press is so important to democracy that the founding fathers gave it specific constitutional protection: the First Amendment.
Miller devotes an entire chapter to how real news works: how journalists do their jobs, how they document facts, and how they correct mistakes. He reveals the “many faces” of fake news, from tabloids to faked online news sites, propaganda, and satire. Yes – satirical, funny stories in the Onion are not “real news”.
He talks about how fake news is created for profit and for political ideology, and how social media comes into play. Miller dives into why people believe in fake news, bias confirmation, and even how political affiliation affects who is more susceptible to believing fake news. And he addresses the question: when fake news results in violence, can we ban it?
In the last two chapters, Miller describes how you can tell fake news from real news, and what you can do to fight fake news. The most important take-aways: get your news from reputable sources (he lists least-biased sources); read before you share; and when a news story is breaking, wait for information to be gathered rather than jumping on the first bandwagon that goes by. And though Miller urges kids to “debunk misinformation with facts”, there’s research that indicates biased people are fact-resistant.
As all good journalists do, Miller provides source notes and a bibliography. He also includes lists of books, websites and other media for further study. If I gave stars, this book would get a handful! Review copy provided by the publisher.