Vanderbilt University heads project to debunk fake news - WSMV News 4

Vanderbilt University heads project to debunk fake news

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Some websites allow users to create their own fake news stories. (WSMV) Some websites allow users to create their own fake news stories. (WSMV)

Flashy headlines, graphic images and information that seems just too good to be true. Experts say those are all warning signs for fake news.

Bogus articles about crime, wildlife and restaurants have hit Middle Tennessee hard, and it’s causing some hurt.

Anybody with an internet connection can cook up a fake news story and share it.

It’s become such a problem, Vanderbilt University is heading up a project to help you debunk bad information.

“When those stories get out there they have a life of its own,” said Barry Cross, spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Cross said his agency was flooded with phone calls after two fake news articles about alligators took over Facebook feeds in Middle Tennessee.

“If there were an alligator in the Duck River, I said if there were an alligator, obviously we would want people to know for their safety and the animal's safety,” Cross said.

The articles were created on a pranking website that admits to being a joke.

The publisher claims it does not support fake news, but it does support fun, and there's even a tab users can click to create their own fake news story.

 “When you read something and you go, ‘Oh, that's great, that must be so true!’ It just fits all of your preconceived notions, that's a good sign that's probably false,” said Dr. Lisa Fazio with Vanderbilt University.

Fazio is a psychology professor. She's leading a project at Vanderbilt to combat fake news and bolster the public's trust in journalism.

Fazio said the more people see fake news on their feed and the more they click, the more they’ll start to believe it even they know it's not true.

“The first time you see it, you might be pretty skeptical of it. After seeing it five times, you are much more likely to believe. Even if you don't believe it's fully true, you'll have doubts,” Fazio said.

Once the project is complete, Fazio said it will have a system of rules for fact checkers and debunkers.

Some easy tips to keep in mind until them when looking at articles include:

  • Look at the byline
  • Check the source
  • Research to see if any other outlets are reporting it
  • Trust your instincts

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