Politics

Assistant Professor’s ‘Fake’ News List Has Breitbart, Not HuffPo

An assistant professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts created a list of “fake news” websites that mixes numerous conservative outlets that routinely publish factual news with those that fabricate stories.

Among the sites listed by Merrimack Assistant Professor Melissa Zimdars are Breitbart, Independent Journal Review (IJR) and The Blaze. Articles from those outlets may require additional scrutiny, but they still produce authentic news reports. Even so, Zimdars includes them alongside objectively fake news websites like abcnews.com.co and MegynKelly.us.

The list circulated widely on social media while Facebook executives discuss whether they should become censors by banning “fake news”.

Legitimate, but politically-bent media could suffer major traffic and credibility blows if Facebook’s liberal staff uses anything like Zimdars’ document – titled “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources – as a template for censoring posts.

Facebook’s censorship consideration began primarily after Donald Trump won the presidential election over the favored Hillary Clinton, with critics complaining that fake news shared on the social media site influenced the election results.

The impetus for censorship could especially put pressure on conservative-leaning news and opinion sites. Facebook previously faced criticism that its trending topics were biased against conservative news.

Zimdars also included advice for “analyzing news sources.” She noted, for example, that particularly enraging articles are a sign that a news report is fake, as if factual reporting wouldn’t prompt anger among some readers.

“Some sources not specifically included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post and Fox News vacillate between providing legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources,” Zimdars wrote.

It’s unclear why Breitbart was included, but The Huffington Post was not. Not all liberal media was spared. Zimdars included left-wing bastions, such as Think Progress and Upworthy.

Additionally, Zimdars suggested verifying media outlets’ legitimacy by checking on Wikipedia or Snopes, though both websites authenticity have also been criticized. Snopes, for example, erroneously deemed that a Daily Caller article was false without citing any facts or contacting the reporter who supposedly invented the story.

Sites absent from the list are also telling. The Drudge Report, for example, was excluded, even though it frequently aggregates articles from some of the sites Zimdars included. (A Drudge parody, DrudgeReport.com.co was listed.)

An article aggregated by Drudge typically causes a significant traffic surge. Drudge’s power and influence in the media world is well-known.

Zimdars also included satire sites, such as The Onion, Click Hole, and the New Yorker’s Borowitz Report, despite satire’s historically proven place serving as political commentary.

The call for satire’s censorship is not without precedent. MAD Magazine – possibly America’s most well-known satire publication at the time – was blacklisted at the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s.

The magazine wasn’t a national security threat by any stretch, but subsequent revelations from intelligence archives following the fall of the Soviet Union made clear that the communist nation had an extended spy network operating in the United States.

Satire “can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but they are regularly shared as actual/literal news,” Zimdars wrote. She included them on her list because “they have the potential to perpetuate misinformation” and “to make sure anyone who reads a story by The Onion, for example, understands its purpose.”

Banning satire from Facebook would eliminate that commentary.

Zimdars’ document did not advocate directly for Facebook censorship. She notes that the list was created for her students and that the document was in its early stages. The list will likely grow and may see a categorical breakdown.

Zimdars also includes a disclaimer that argues that “not all of these sources are always or inherently problematic” or false, but “they should be considered in conjunction with other news/info sources.”

One tip Zimdars included was especially on point: “It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Even typically reliable sources, whether mainstream or alternative, corporate or nonprofit, rely on particular media frames to report stories and select stories based on different notions of newsworthiness.”

She added that it is advisable “in our contemporary media environment is to read/watch/listen widely and often, and to be critical of the sources we share and engage with on social media.”

The non-profit Daily Caller News Foundation and its for-profit sister the Daily Caller are notably absent from Zimdars’ list.

Note: This article linked to none of the websites on Zimdars’ list.

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