Journalist Joshua Holland leads seminar on fake news

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

In 1844, the Whig Party released a news story falsely accusing a Democratic presidential candidate of selling his slaves to rogue slave-traders. In 2016, history repeated itself when a group of teenagers in Macedonia hosted over 100 fake news websites centered around American politics.

“A lot of the stuff that we saw in 2016 isn’t new,” journalist Joshua Holland said. “Disinformation is not new.”

On Tuesday,  Holland, a contributor to The Nation and Rolling Stone, led a discussion on today’s media landscape in a Future of Public Policy seminar titled “Political Journalism in an Era of Fake News.” He said the current environment has created “a perfect storm of misinformation.” 

Holland said that in the past, journalists depended on fact-checking and multiple perspectives to verify their credibility, but now, both sides are not fairly presented.

“(Fact-checking) has been the answer for neutral, professional media for as long as I remember, and that hasn’t helped,” Holland said. “There have been serious media failures.” 

Government freshman Jackson Freeman said he noticed carelessness among the media during the 2016 election, but thought an educated populace could combat it in the future.

“The media can be a factual, educational source or a hyper-partisan source that doesn’t explicitly declare the truth,” Freeman said. “That can often mislead people and under-educate people.”

English freshman Ana Celaya said she is pessimistic about the relationship between citizens and media outlets.

“Today, we’re particularly stratified and divided,” Celaya said. “I think the issue of fake news is some of the obvious bias in news media can add to the unhealthy political division.”

When it comes to eradicating fake news, Holland said he is unsure of a solution, but said people should be more aware of how partisan organizations use the media to influence the public.

“If you can appeal to people’s identity, you can create very consistent things that are picked up by feedback groups and end up influencing the entire media landscape,” Holland said.

Holland also said social media allows users to share false headlines and streamline news to only what they want to see. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of adults get at least some of their news from social media. 

“We all want to think that news that we don’t agree with is fake news, and news that we do agree with is (of) the greatest veracity, as if it came down etched on a tablet from a mountainside,” Holland said.