Letter to the Editor: What I learned during a fellowship about fake news and disinformation

A letter from MU student Jacob Cavaiani.

When I was presented with the opportunity last fall to apply for a week-long fellowship with American and German students about disinformation and how to combat it, I knew I had to apply.

In May 2018 I attended Journalism in the Era of Disinformation, a program held in New York and Washington, D.C. that included media tours and robust discussion on fake news.

We learned the true definitions of fake news, disinformation and misinformation from Professor Sarah Oates at the University of Maryland-College Park.

Oates used Parliament's definition of fake news: “The deliberate creation and sharing of false or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either for the purposes of causing harm, or for political, personal or financial gain.”

We learned misinformation is false information that is shared, and disinformation is false information that is shared with an intent to harm.

We learned from the Washington Post's Aaron Blake. We toured NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C., The Associated Press in New York City and learned from journalists at Axios and InsideClimate News.

Perhaps the best part was learning from the seven American and eight German students with whom I shared the experience. The American students had fun comparing dialects and discussing which grocery stores are most popular near home. I think the German students enjoyed listening to our banter.

Still, we American students had the opportunity to learn about life and journalism in Germany. I walked away with a totally new perspective thanks to our hours of conversations and interactions over the course of the week.

When I began the program, I did not know exactly what to expect, but I walk away with a deeper understanding of the origins of the term "fake news" and how it is used in popular culture. And I leave knowing 15 amazing German and American students who will do great things in their future, and I look forward to staying in touch with them.

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