Modern society enables people to receive an overwhelming amount of information in seconds. While some may consider this accessibility a luxury, it can cause difficulty when trying to distinguish fact from fiction. This problem has become especially apparent over the past two years. As the term “fake news” becomes part of our everyday vocabulary — thanks in large part to the country’s confusing and polarizing political scene — information consumers are left with the task of sorting through “fake news” to reach the “truth.” Social media, where fiction can quickly become fact, further feeds into this fake news epidemic. Much like a sickness, fake news can spread quickly from person to person. While one cannot receive a vaccination against false information, one can seek protection by becoming informed.
University of Haifa is working to cure this so-called epidemic. Dr. Yaniv Levyatan, an expert in psychological and cyber warfare at the university, hopes to consumers’ knowledge through his new course on fake news and propaganda. “Fake news has created a situation in which we can no longer believe anyone or anything, since we have no way of evaluating the credibility of the flood of information we encounter,” explains Levyatan.
The students in this ground-breaking course begin by examining the deterioration of trustworthy news outlets and how journalism has changed in recent history. Levyatan even goes so far as to compare fake news to Nazi manipulation and the tactics described in George Orwell’s novel, “1984.” Through these parallels, and by pushing students to analyze the source of information, Levyatan hopes that students who complete this course will be able to assess information’s plausibility and accuracy using their analytical and critical thinking skills.
“[Educating] younger generations to become critical consumers of online information” is imperative, says Gabriel Weimann, professor communications at the University of Haifa, in an interview with Fresh Ink for Teens. Weimann also noted that one cannot overstate the importance social media plays into fake news. “Social media vastly promotes [the fake news] phenomenon [especially because] it is unregulated [and] provides easy access and anonymity for fake news creators and promoters,” says Weimann.
As fake news spirals into a continuously worsening issue, the University of Haifa is not only addressing the problem but taking direct action against it. As Weimann points out, consumers are inadvertently contributing to this phenomenon by “sharing it, spreading it, liking it, not fighting it and very often even enjoying it,” rather than paying attention to the prices paid because of these untruths.
Levyatan fears that fake news may create a challenge for future democracies that can only be crushed by paying attention and analyzing the facts. This unique course will help University of Haifa students navigate the treacherous sea of easily accessible information. Hopefully, this course curriculum will spread beyond Haifa, so all consumers can be committed to the truth.
Amalia Munn is a junior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. She is also a member of the Fresh Ink for Teens’ Editorial Board.