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Fake Information Has Been Everywhere For A Long Time

by Larry Jacobs

“If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed,

if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”

Mark Twain

Mark Twain, who died in 1910, kind of sums it all up, doesn’t he? So please be sure you understand that as you teach media literacy, all of what’s going on now has been going on for a long, long time. Twain is as timely as ever. Remember when Vice President Cheney planted a fake story about WMDs into the head of a New York Times reporter who reported it in a huge story… and when asked on Meet the Press if it were true, The Veep responded, “Must be true. It’s been reported by the New York Times!”

Fake news has been around for years, and to be honest, I too was falling for it way back when. I well remember the election of 1800 when I voted for Jefferson because I read in what turned out to be a pro-Jefferson newspaper that John Adams was actually using The Magic 8 Ball to make presidential decisions.

Shoulda gone for Adams since The Magic 8 Ball wasn’t invented until 1950, but I fell hook, line and sinker! And I’m college educated.

But you don’t have to be college educated to fall for fake news and information. Witness Edgar Welch, father of two children, who in December read on the web that Hilary Clinton was using a DC Pizza Parlor as the headquarters for a child porn ring, then drove to DC with his rifle, and shot up the place. Luckily nobody got hurt, but the pizza parlor is still getting death threats from other media illiterates.

God help us! Welcome to the world in which you’re teaching kids to be adults. It’s not going to be easy for you.

To help everyone out, I interviewed one of the true experts in the field, Frank Baker who at www.frankwbaker.com runs the Media Literacy Clearinghouse. Frank informs me that basically we’re talking about propaganda and it runs well beyond words and websites. Here’s the show we did. He looks at everything, the news, music, films. They are all media and they can do a great job propagandizing. Some excellent examples of both happened in the same place, lovely Germany in that wonderful year 1936. Leni Riefenstahl, who unfortunately for the world was a great film-maker (in the same way Lex Luther was a great scientist), created her two masterworks “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia.” They made Hitler and Germany seem overwhelmingly gigantic and all-powerful as well as gracious and organized through incredible imagery, using all the right camera angles. The media speaks in many ways.

And the glorious music used at the 1936 Nazi Olympics and in both films even brought tears to the eyes of participating Brits and Americans… thrilled them right to the heart… and right into their brains, creating exactly the right image as the Nazis wanted to tell the world “we’re not so bad after all. Don’t believe that crap you’ve been reading.”

And the Nazis were successful at it until they accidentally broke the Treaty of Versailles by taking the Sudetenland and then inadvertently invading Poland, starting WWII.

But their propaganda worked… holding off the allies while they rebuilt and the Allies didn’t.

Want to teach media literacy, i.e., critical thinking in your subject? The timing couldn’t be better considering its always a good time to teach it.

We tend to think of all this as the realm of three areas in our schools: English, Social Studies and the School Library. Nope, it’s everywhere. As mentioned, music, cinema and art propagandize and can create a false impression. We can teach it there. In science, have you ever heard of “Predatory Journals,” unchecked research with fake editors publishing for a fee to enhance the careers of young unpublished scientists looking for credit? From ArsTechnica.com in March 2017, “By 2014, nearly half a million articles had been published in journals like these and the public can’t tell the difference between legitimate scientific publications and the junk published in Predatory journals.”

Or if you’re interested in Math, you might want to read this article as accepted by a real journal, Advances in Pure Mathematics, entitled (so help me)Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE.”

Enjoy it. It’s fake. Talk about buzzwords! It was computer generated bull-pucky by a buzzword building software and “authored” by a ‘professor’ at a non-existent university.

It’s everywhere. It always has been, but now we know the harm it can do in our social media, instant world! Please teach about it everywhere… and, even better, have the kids learn by doing, like these high schoolers in Pittsburg, KS where “student journalists had begun researching (the newly hired Principal) Robertson, and quickly found some discrepancies in her education credentials. For one, when they researched Corllins University, the private university where Robertson said she got her masters and doctorate degrees years ago, the website didn’t work. They found no evidence that it was an accredited university…” www.academia.org/high-school-journalists-investigate-incoming-principal-credentials-from-diploma-mill-she-then-resigns/

The media is everywhere in our lives. And although fake news has always been around, the proliferation of news and other media assets makes it even more important now to teach our children the healthy skepticism and skills of discernment they will need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Our job as educators is to help drive the acquisition of knowledge and connect that knowledge to the lives of our learners. Let’s make sure they’re great drivers.

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