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CoastLine: Fake News On Social Media is Trickier Than You Might Think

Wikimedia Commons / Marc Nozell - Merrimac, NH
QAnon covers a wide range of conspiracy theories -- stemming from a central, false idea that the ultimate power brokers are Satan-worshiping, cannibalistic pedophiles.

When you first heard about a horde of protestors storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, who did you believe was responsible? 

Has the responsible party changed in your mind since you first heard the news? 

How often do you read a headline that pops up in your social media feed, feel a flash of anger, and share it right away?  (And you’ve still only read the headline?)  Is it possible that you’ve passed along fake news by reacting to that flash of anger?  That’s one of the key ways, according to studies, that misinformation spreads.

Propaganda, conspiracy theories, and outright falsehoods are not only widely available through media platforms masquerading as news – they are gaining an alarming degree of traction in American hearts and minds.  Since they are often presented as news that the mainstream media refuses to report, believers of these false stories view the very organizations charged with keeping the interests of the public in the forefront instead as conspirators in a sinister cover-up.

According to a 2018 MIT study reported on by The Atlantic, fake news consistently reaches a larger audience than factual news stories.

Partly in recognition of National News Literacy Week and partly because of the prevalence of false narratives we heard recently by local folks around the events of January 6th, we take a close look at this dynamic and ways we can become better news consumers.

Jennifer Brubaker, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Communications Studies, University of North Carolina Wilmington – where she specializes in the intersection of media and politics.   In November 2020, Lexington Books published her first book, Celebrity and The American Political Process


Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.