Students speak on the difficulties of finding trustworthy news sources in the digital age

BY MICHALA SAWYER '17

When we live in a world with labels like “alternative facts” and “fake news,” and it can be hard for students to know who to trust when it comes to news sources. After fake news websites on Facebook were able to influence a presidential election, people have learned to approach sensationalist headlines and social media linked news articles with caution.

MHN asked students around campus various questions about their news preferences and what news out- lets they trust to give them non-alternative facts. When it comes to the type of news they like, 51 percent of students interviewed preferred full articles to video segments and brief news updates. Students also tended to prefer news about the current political climate as well as investigative fact checking articles, although one student said they liked stories about animals. The majority of students preferred engaging news to cut-and-dry news stories, with 71 percent of student responders preferring the former. Students were more inclined toward online articles than to videos or newspaper articles, with only 29 percent favoring printed news pieces. Biology student Annabelle Plowden ’20 said that the news depresses her so she does not intentionally seek out news stories. Plowden added that all the major news stories indicate how much the country has declined since the 2016 presidential election.

Students attributed the news they do consume to a number of outlets. Half of the students admitted to getting their news from social media, like Twitter and Facebook. Multiple
students mentioned getting their news from a particular news outlet that posts on Facebook called NowThis. One student said they primarily get their news from Twitter and word-of-mouth.
International relations major and anthropology minor Clara Färber ’17 gets her news from multiple sources, such as Die Zeit, Haaretz. com, several outlets on Twitter, the New York Times and a curated newsletter. In addition to this, Färber said she tries to mostly read international news stories and perspectives in order to avoid bias. Zohar Berhman ’20 said they spent a lot of time before college reading the news- paper and now they tend to get their news from similar sources like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the BBC. They admitted to sometimes seeing news stories on social media but are cautious before accepting those stories as fact.

Factual news outlets can be difficult to find. Many students specifically mentioned Fox News as a biased and often untrustworthy news source. But what about other sources? When asked what news outlets they trust, student responses varied. Some said they preferred news from “well-known” sources. Others said they sought out “objective, quality journalism.” And then there were those who claimed they were “not sure who to trust anymore.” Olivia Arco ’20 said she finds the New York Times to usually be trustworthy, but believes that “it can sometimes have weird opinions.” Arco also said she trusts the Wall Street Journal, but ultimately only trusts well known reputable sources. Berhman also mentioned that they do their best to steer clear of shows that sensationalize stories and include gossip. Many students, like Maren McKenna ’20 and Färber, admit that while the majority of news these days is shocking and negative, it is important to be informed.

MHN sought to find out if students can identify fake news headlines from real ones. We presented them with ten headlines from isitfakenewsornot.com and asked them if the headlines were real or fake. Alondra Reyes ’18 got 60 percent of the answers correct. She said “a lot of articles are fabricated...I get a lot of my news from YouTube.” She likes Democracy Now and The Young Turks, both of which post videos on YouTube. Ashley Lund ’17, the president of the Mount Holyoke Democrats, said “I feel fairly confident. I would say...because of what I’ve learned here at Mount Holyoke in terms of evaluating sources for research papers and things. I feel like that’s given me a pretty good baseline for determining [reliability] and knowing the skills to check other places and confirm.” She got 100 percent of the answers correct on the quiz.

Mary Pura ’17 also felt pretty confident in her ability to identify fake from factual news, her reasoning being that she was, “not an idiot like Trump.” She was able to answer 90 percent of the questions correctly. Dur-e-Maknoon Ahmed ’20 said that she checks for loopholes and grammatical errors in determining whether a story is real or fake. She got 70 percent of the answers correct on the quiz.

It can also be hard for students to identity fake news within their own political ideology. Mena Malaku ’19 said that most of the news she sees on social media is too liberal or too biased and that it’s hard to differentiate because she is biased too. Students who obtain news from social media are more likely to trust sources that they actively follow or are posted by well-known friends.

Interviews for this article were conducted by Campus Life editor Shiloh Frederick ’17 and staff writers Flori Needle ’20 and Isabel Kerr ’19.

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