Students Explore Fake News with Snopes CEO

As part of a larger conversation on how to identify fake or junk news, Northwest journalism students invited David Mikkelson and Doreen Marchionni, founder and managing editor of Snopes.com, respectively, for a discussion on the state of journalism and how to identify false stories.

“A lot of what Snopes deals with is determining the correct context,” David told the students. “This happens all the time with photos or videos online and in social media. The images aren’t fake. They haven’t been created, manipulated, or doctored. But the information that is presented with the photos is wrong, and the incorrect context is what makes it junk news.”

David founded Snopes.com in 1994 as a website investigating the truth behind urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore. Now, it is one of the oldest and largest fact-checking sites online and is commonly cited by journalists in both print and television.

David and Doreen began the conversation showcasing how easily fake news can spread online. They presented the publication of an obviously fake story, which originated on a fringe website and was picked up by multiple major media outlets around the world.

Doreen, who has 20 years of experience as a journalist, most recently with The Seattle Times, posed a simple question to the students: “What is the greater sin? The fake story or the traditional mainstream news sites that run with it?”

“The mainstream news sites,” answered senior Gray D. “They are more professional and should be able to determine if the news if fake to begin with.”

Senior Cooper M. noted mainstream media sites also have greater visibility and he questioned if some sites peddle fake news because it brings in more pageviews.

“That is the million-dollar question and the world we are living in," responded Doreen. "This mind-numbing world in which professional and practicing journalists are committing this cardinal sin of promoting fake news – It shouldn’t be happening at all, ever.”

Today, many sources of information, some real, some not, are muddled together on social media platforms. David and Doreen encouraged the students to remain vigilant and alert when searching for truthful sources.

Says Doreen: “The act of fact checking is the most essential skill for journalists to learn today.”