Media Communications Research News

Dr. Bradley Wiggins, associate professor and department head of media communications, recently presented research at the 12th meeting of INTED, the International Technology, Education, and Development Conference in Valencia, Spain on Tuesday March 6th. His talk was titled “Challenges to Media Literacy in an Era of Fake News” and cited recent events such as the Parkland school shooting in Florida and the fake news that surfaced on various political spectrums.

A main focus of the talk was to address how and why fake news is received, shared, posted, etc. and what educators can do about it. He emphasized that media narratives are constructed, and that highly polarizing topics are especially prone to fake news.

Dr. Wiggins defined fake news in two distinct ways, emphasizing that both carry heavy demands on our attention online and off. The first definition states that news stories constructed to confuse or appeal to specific forms of confirmation bias and/or opinion are fake news and their reception is dependent on one or more of five factors he outline in his talk. The second definition includes its use as an insult. When used as such, fake news signifies an entity which does not fit within your worldview. Why?  If the entity expresses a view different from your own, fake news as an insult can be deployed strategically.


According to studies conducted by Ipsos and Stanford University, individuals demonstrate a weak ability to discern so-called fake news stories from news stories based on real and/or evidence-based events. In the Stanford study, students from middle school to college were unable to judge the credibility of news stories shown to them. The initial reaction from Facebook was the development and deployment of a four-step plan to decrease the availability of fake news stories at least on its platform. The challenge posed by discussions of fake news centers not on ‘what to do about it’ but rather how to understand it from both ‘sides’. Invariably any given news story contains a specific frame. To this I add the term media narrative within a specific and contextualized definition to address the challenge. Furthermore, I situate the term fake news historically but also with reference to the semiotic use of the term by President Donald Trump. I then suggest reasons why fake news exists today in an increasingly mediated environment where attention-as-currency is paramount to the online experience. Finally, I propose ways in which we can help our students identify and challenge fake news.

Dr. Wiggins, Webster Vienna Private University.