Fake News: A Drama in 3 Acts

During a routine press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a series of what could charitably be called “misstatements” about Adolf Hitler, concentration camps, and the use of chemical weapons in WWII. What followed should be identified as the new normal in 2017: a flood of fake news reports were generated, then shared on social media until it became difficult to discern which Spicer quotes were real and which had been fabricated.

Act 1: Inspiration

Spicer’s briefing gaffes were instant fodder for fake news purveyors. The combination of strange comments, incendiary references, and instant attention on Twitter made for a perfect storm of fake content inspiration. “Sean Spicer,” “Holocaust Centers,” and “not even Hitler” were all trending on Twitter before Spicer stepped away from the podium. Knowing that this story would have legs, fake news creators sprung into action.

Act 2: Dissemination

As this BuzzFeed article illustrates, fake news allstars like Newslo and Politicops ran stories with wildly reimagined quotes from Spicer that were quickly picked up and shared on Facebook. Speaking of Facebook, a faux Sean Spicer page was created to issue a false (and inflammatory) apology, which was later deleted, however not before being widely shared.

Act 3: Confusion

As of the time of this post, the Newslo article headlined “Sean Spicer Defends Himself: “Gas Chambers Were Such A Minute Part Of World War II”” had been shared from the Newslo Facebook page alone 251 times, and commented on by 245 people. A quick scan of the comments revealed that most of these commenters appeared to think Spicer actually said what was in the article, and were upset. Very few point out that this is not a real news site (although, presumably if Newslo has the time, they could go through and delete such comments). Buzzfeed also points out that other known fake news sites like USPoIn ran accurate descriptions of the briefing, adding to the confusion.

Do you, or do your students, have the skills to sort out what’s fake and what’s real in the media? We designed these two Fake News learning modules and quizzes to assess your critical thinking abilities!