HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Open your eyes, and it’s there.
Misinformation. Disinformation. Flat-out false information. In the digital age, it’s everywhere you scan, scroll or skim.
“People are swiping or scrolling if something doesn’t catch their attention within three seconds,” said Christy Hribar, a senior at High Point University.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, the sharing of false information, or what was coined “fake news,” earned a definition from the World Health Organization: infodemic.
“Too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. It causes confusion and risk-taking behaviors that can harm health,” WHO defined. “It also leads to mistrust in health authorities and undermines the public health response. An infodemic can intensify or lengthen outbreaks when people are unsure about what they need to do to protect their health and the health of people around them. With growing digitization – an expansion of social media and internet use – information can spread more rapidly. This can help to more quickly fill information voids but can also amplify harmful messages.”
But the sharing of false information spreads beyond the realm of diseases, and no one is immune.
In 2008, Facebook was only four years old. Twitter had been around for two years, and Instagram was two years away from launching. It’s the same year the News Literacy Project was established to help educators teach their students how to discern between fact and fiction.
“I don’t think anybody would disagree that that’s a serious issue in our society,” said John Mims, assistant professor of Strategic Communication at HPU.
This year, the Public Relations Student Society of America Partnered with the News Literacy Project for the Bateman Case Study Competition. HPU students have participated in the competition for the past six years.
“It’s hard to get people to care sometimes,” said HPU senior and campaign member Josh Noel.
In addition to doing surveys and studies, the students have created literature to encourage others to be critical in their gathering and spreading of news. Namely, by creating fliers and observing how they’re perceived.
“We want to make sure that you’re able to understand what you’re reading and what your source is and how credible it is, to then be able to share it with your community members,” Hribar said.
The students are also working to determine what demographics are most susceptible to the spread of false information, from both foreign and domestic sources.
“Now our students are actually stopping to think about, ‘is this real news? Should I be sharing this? Am I spreading disinformation?’” Mims said. “There is so much misinformation, or maybe not misinformation, but maybe misconstruction of the information so that it’s misleading.”
The students are wrapping up their campaign within the week. The finalists will present their work to a panel of judges in May.