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After the Agora – Fact Checking

Communications professor Jen Mercieca held a workshop on media literacy.

“With social media, we are all citizen journalists now: your followers are your audience, and that is a lot of power,” stated Jennifer Mercieca at the Aggie Agora Workshop Wednesday on Fact-Checking.

Dr. Mercieca holds monthly workshops in order to equip citizens to be able to discern who is telling the truth in current political discourse. Her presentation was both enlightening and engaging as she described the current epidemic of fake news, how it flourishes on social media, and how we can confront it.

Dr Jennifer MerciecaFake news can take different forms, such as propaganda, disinformation, conspiracies, and clickbait, Dr. Mercieca explained. These false stories serve to create and intensify division among people – and this is something we can either contribute to or oppose. Challenging fake news sources that are engulfing the Internet is essential at such a divisive time in our nation, she believes.

It was particularly striking to learn that, according to statistics from the Pew Research Center, 83% of Americans believe that it is the responsibility of the media to check facts, while in reality, reporters are simply doing the job of reporting what is being said, not necessarily reporting the validity of the evidence. Dr. Mercieca offered practical ways to fact-check for oneself before reposting articles to overcome the lure of spreading fake news.

Utilizing non-partisan fact checking websites (such as Poltifact), going to a source for confirmation and analysis of the fine print, and checking “outside sources” referenced by news articles are only a few of the useful habits suggested by Dr. Mercieca to fact-check stories. She then applied these techniques to a case study of a widespread fake news story that circulated during the 2016 presidential election – and revealed how exposing fake news is entirely achievable for all citizens with a little effort. 

Overall, this workshop emphasized the importance of being a well-informed and engaged citizen on social media. It is vital to realize the influence our simple “shares” on media sites can hold: a step towards journalistic truth and productivity, or towards divisive deceptiveness. Each of us holds the resources, and power, to evaluate the type of impact we want to make with our social media presence.

— Alix Poth, Aggie Agora Student Worker