My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 edition of “Technical Communication: Journal of the Society for Technical Communication”.
“Fake news” is one of the biggest news headlines in recent years. The threat of fake news is everywhere, and politicians have latched onto this buzzword. However, what exactly is fake news, and how do you determine the viability of your news source? With more people accessing news from a variety of Internet sources, how can you tell what stories are legitimate, and which are yellow journalism or political propaganda? In Fighting Fake News!, Dr. Housand designs a program structured to teach students, and maybe even adults, how to determine which news stories are credible, and which are less than reliable.
America has a long history of fake news, from the yellow journalism that provoked the Spanish-American war, to the misreporting that “The War of the Worlds” radio drama sparked mass hysteria. (It didn’t, but the newspapers said that there was hysteria to promote newspapers instead of the newcomer radio.) Why do people believe such stories? Often because they are predisposed and want to believe them. To combat such tendencies, Dr. Housand presents an attack plan. Fake news fighters must overcome the following challenges: information overload, certifying authenticity of sources, evaluating speed against accuracy, and overcoming your personal biases. This book is designed as a teaching aid, and educators can use activities placed within each chapter to engage students and help hone their critical thinking skills. Each chapter clearly lays out a plan of instruction to convey one of the main concepts, and to build up towards overcoming one of the stated challenges. For example, chapter 8 focuses on overcoming your biases. It describes how many people surround themselves on social media with people who share their political viewpoints. The result is, everyone in that circle agrees with everyone’s opinions, which falsely validates those opinions. Without alternate opinions, people develop a bias towards their group and are quick to dismiss other groups. To be better informed, Dr Housand suggests that alternative views be taken from qualified sources. The exercise for this chapter describes how to start a rudimentary debate by choosing a topic and then finding reliable sources that are pro/con/neutral before deciding.
Will Fighting Fake News! stop the spread of misinformation? Definitely not. But it does provide a logical framework to convey to students to help them develop critical thinking skills. Will it enable you to change your Facebook friend’s opposing political viewpoints? Probably not, but it can lead you into civil discourse on such topics. If you are interested in learning how media manipulates people and how to overcome said manipulation, then Fighting Fake News! is the book for you.