Should You Believe the Media? Learn to Identify Fake News

We owe it to our campuses to hone our media evaluation skills so that we base our decisions on facts and common sense.

Have you seen the photo to the right on Facebook?

If so, you might have clicked on it or even “liked” it because, like me, you are probably a red-blooded American who believes all schools should be allowed to fly the American flag.

The problem with this photo is that U.S. schools already are allowed to fly the Stars and Stripes, and every campus I’ve ever visited or attended does so every day, except under unusual circumstances. So why is this photo being posted at all?

Since I’m a journalist who has a decent understanding of social media marketing and propaganda, I have a sneaking suspicion it is running on Facebook for one or both of the following reasons:

1. The more clicks it receives, the more money its producer will make.
2. It is designed to stir up controversy over a non-issue by leading readers to believe (falsely) that some schools aren’t allowed to fly the American flag.

Even if you aren’t on social media but just like to surf the Internet, you’ve probably come across ridiculous, untrue and often cruel headlines like “20 Celebrities with Good for Nothing Children.”

Perhaps during this year’s brutal presidential election you saw the doctored photo of Donald Trump with no hair. And don’t even get me started on the “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” fake news story.

I’m writing about this topic because as a real journalist who tries to cover subjects in a nuanced, balanced and thoughtful way, I find the over-the-top online yellow journalism and/or marketing ploys that have become so popular to be disturbing and even dangerous. Although CS can sometimes fall into the “if it bleeds, it leads” trap because of the topics we cover, we make every effort to not pander to our readers’ basest instincts. Also, we don’t lie.

The doctored photos and fake news that have become so prominent recently, however, are all opinion, innuendo and rumor that use aggressive wording and images to get your attention and sway your opinion. Don’t be taken in by this baloney.

RELATED: Security Officer’s Facebook Message Loses Company Hospital Contract

Those of us in the campus security, emergency management and law enforcement community can’t afford to rely on ideas or solutions that aren’t real.

It’s time for all of us to hone our media consumption skills. Here’s how to read, view or listen to media so that you will get the actual facts:

  • Listen to, watch and read news from many different sources, and respectfully listen to and engage with people who have opinions that are different from your own.
  • Beware of “news” websites that haven’t been around for very long.
  • Beware of headlines and articles that use shock value, violence and chaos to get your attention, or sound snarky and opinionated.
  • Beware of news stories that don’t link to sources or quote reputable individuals or institutions.
  • If a claim sounds too outrageous to be true, check to see if other reputable sources confirm it. Be mindful of their personal, business and political affiliations to ensure there isn’t a conflict of interest.
  • Use common sense, and keep an open mind.

There has never been a more critical time to get your facts straight, especially with regards to the safety and security issues that hospitals, schools and universities are currently facing. Now more than ever you owe it to yourself, your organization and your country to be a critical thinker.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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