Universities now offering courses on how to spot fake news

President Donald Trump talks to journalists during a news conference.

By U2B Staff 

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The internet is brimming with fake news, disinformation, and alternative facts, and all of these have serious ramifications on society, with a varying degree of insidiousness.

Microsoft has recently launched two new technologies that aim to combat disinformation based on research by Professor Jacob Shapiro at Princeton University.

Additionally, the software giant is also ramping up efforts to educate the public about the problem and has formed partnerships to help advance these technologies and educational efforts quickly.


The research carried out by Professor Shapiro’s team catalogued 96 separate foreign influence campaigns targeting 30 countries between 2013 and 2019.

“These campaigns, carried out on social media, sought to defame notable people, persuade the public or polarise debates.”

The report also found that “93% of the campaigns included the creation of original content, 86% amplified pre-existing content and 74% distorted objectively verifiable facts.”

It also stated that “disinformation has been distributed about the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to deaths and hospitalisations of people seeking supposed cures that are actually dangerous.”

There is a strong need for education in media literacy which is important to help the public sort disinformation from genuine facts and manage risks posed by disinformation and other forms of fake news.

With an aim of tackling this issue, experts from Arizona State University have embarked on a new Global Security Initiative (GSI) with Kristy Roschke and Dan Gillmor, who are both GSI affiliates working on this project.

GSI’s initiative will revolve around areas concerning cybersecurity, human, artificial intelligence and robot teaming, narrative, disinformation, and strategic influence as well as visualisation and analytics.


Journalism experts from the university said that while disinformation has always existed but with the advancement of the internet and social media platforms, spreading false information is easier than ever.

Roschke is the managing director of ASU’s News Co/Lab and a digital media literacy instructor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Gillmor is a professor of practice and co-founder of the News Co/Lab and teaches a digital media literacy course at the university.

Roschke and Gillmor recently launched “Mediactive,” a free digital media literacy course as part of a $2 million grant from Facebook.

“The way we find and consume news has fundamentally changed over the past several decades,”

Roschke added, “Most of us have had to learn as we go without any training. It can feel like we are barely keeping up.”

The three-week course will teach participants how to spot misinformation, access credible sources, and claims and improve understanding of how the media operates.

Participants can work at their own pace and join a series of live conversations with the course team and guests, including Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales.


The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin is also offering its online course, Digital investigations for journalists: How to follow the digital trail of people and entities, for free through its distance learning platform.

The online course is designed to help journalists obtain the tools necessary to investigate and monitor people and entities behind social media accounts.

This free course will be led by BuzzFeed News media editor, Craig Silverman, and is open to anyone who is interested in learning about how to investigate digital content and accounts.

“This course is really essential because it can give any journalist from any beat essential tools and techniques and guidelines for how to bring that digital investigative component to what they are doing,” Silverman said.

He added that these tools can help journalists in background digging, fact-checking, and understanding the value and ethics of a product and the digital presence of those they are investigating.

Founder and director of the Knight Center, Professor Rosental Alves said, “This course is about cutting-edge techniques for investigative journalists,”

The course will teach participants how to use social media and public information to investigate who is really behind a social media account and develop techniques for monitoring, investigating, and searching within social media platforms, as well as verifying images and videos.

Participants can also expect to learn how to investigate and analyse the content and records of a website and deepen their knowledge on the basics of network analysis, and how to apply it to digital investigation that will help them weed out fake news and other misinformation.