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Fact and Fiction

On HNRS 2033 Media Manipulation: Frauds, Hoaxes & Fakes
Fact and Fiction

Manship Chair Len Apcar

In an era of “fake news,” the nation’s trust in the media has become uncertain. As a timely response to public concern over reporting validity, Mass Communication professor Len Apcar’s HNRS 2033 Media Manipulation: Frauds, Hoaxes & Fakes class equips Ogden Honors College students with the tools and methods to separate news fact from news fiction.

Apcar, the Wendell Gray Switzer Jr. Endowed Chair in Media Literacy at the Manship School of Mass Communication, and a former senior editor with The New York Times, guides students to tackle questions like “What is fake news?” and “How does it spread?” By studying the evolution of media trust and reliability, as well as recent cases of fake news, the class is honing their ability to become information experts.

“The goal is to give Honors students the chance to discuss social media, the history and the tools to become savvy news consumers,” Apcar said. “I want students to come away from this class with a really strong set of skills to evaluate journalism of all types, and to have a good understanding of how information moves through society.”

To build a comprehensive understanding of how information moves, Apcar structured the course to investigate individual instances of fake news and give students the means to identify it. Apcar also gave the class a foundation in the ways that journalism developed to where it is today.

“I wanted to give them a grounding on proper journalistic models,” Apcar said. “We studied the evolution of journalism to the accepted point of objectivity and defined it as a concept and a business model.”

The first case of false information that the class studied took place inside Louisiana. Four years ago, a story about an explosion at a chemical plant in Centerville circulated through the media, but there was no actual explosion – it was fake news. The class looked at this “fake news attack” and studied it as a model for how fake news is orchestrated. 

Freshman mass communication major Emily Millet looked at the explosion story and was surprised by the ability of fake news to hit so close to home.

“The most interesting thing to me about the Centerville case study was that Russian trolls actually made an effort to target a place in Louisiana, just miles from my home,” Millet said. “Being born and raised here, it’s eye opening to see the possibility of misinformation and fake news on a local level.”

Expanding from the local impact of misinformation, the class looked at the recent 2016 election as a source of case studies. Unfolding events like FBI Director Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation have given the class real-time stories to unpack.

“The challenge in this class was to teach while something is developing really contemporaneously and to ground it as a serious academic pursuit,” Apcar said. “When Mueller’s indictment came down we stopped the class, and we spent a day going through the indictment.”

After breaking down the mechanics of how information travels, Millet feels the course has changed the way she thinks about news.

“I have definitely become a more informed consumer of news. It’s important to verify sources and corroborate information with other reliable news outlets,” Millet said. “With social media being a primary source of news for most college students, it’s our responsibility to evaluate if those sources are credible.”

Professor Len Apcar and Press Secretary Mike McCurry

In addition to studying cases of fake news, the class is actively contributing to the fight against falsehoods by designing the Manship School of Mass Communication’s fake news website, DetectFakeNews.com. The website is an extension of a project by Apcar where he produced a pocket-sized guide on detecting fake news. In a recent class, Mike McCurry, the former Press Secretary to President Bill Clinton, visited the course to talk to students about media bias, social media's role in political communication and fake news. Apcar showed McCurry the pamphlet he has developed to help the average person understand how to delineate fake news from real news.

“People hunger for information about Detect Fake News. This little card that I walk around with, we’ve passed out thousands,” Apcar said. “And we had this website and it needed to be updated so I thought the class would be perfect for it.”

Apcar is eager to see the results of the student’s efforts on the website and has been happy with the engagement he has seen from his students.

“I wanted a class that facilitated a lot of discussion. I don’t like podium to class lecturing,” Apcar said. “In the honors classes I’ve taught I get a lot of participation, and I grade on it and encourage it.”

 

For a complete list of HNRS Spring Course offerings, visit https://www.honors.lsu.edu/academics/courses/offerings-by-semester/spring-2018-hnrs-courses

 

The Manship School of Mass Communication

LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication teaches and conducts research at the intersection of media and public affairs. The Manship School ranks “among the strongest collegiate communication programs in the country,” according to an outside accrediting agency. It offers undergraduate degrees in journalism, political communication, digital advertising, and public relations, along with four graduate degree programs: master of mass communication, Ph.D. in media and public affairs, certificate of strategic communication, and dual MMC/law degree. 

 

Story by Sarah Procopio. 

 

Contact:

Jacqueline DeRobertis | Communications Coordinator 

(225) 578-0083  | jacquelined@lsu.edu