Fake news source engagement outnumbered real news during election cycle

Fake news was seemingly everywhere on social media throughout this fall’s election cycle. Identifying which news is real and which is fake can sometimes pose a problem for readers. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Blake Nissen)

During the election cycle, the sharing of fake news stories skyrocketed, with some reaching more than a million people.

In the final three months of the campaign, 20 articles with titles like “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary sold weapons to ISIS” had about 8.7 million shares, reactions and comments on Facebook while the top 20 real news articles from The New York Times, Washington Post  and other outlets had about 7.4 million engagements. The misinformation being spread has caused a debate about fake news and if it belongs on the internet.

The evolution of social networking comes with potential problems for the media, Susan Burgess, an Ohio University political science professor, said.

“When new technologies are introduced into politics … that changes the ways politics are covered,” Burgess said. “With the rise of news sources outside of traditional newspapers, they’re not professional journalists, there’s the question about if they’ve been trained.”

A 38-year-old man is taking credit for President-elect Donald Trump’s victory because of his own fake articles. Many people shared his fake sites and fake articles, including Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. One article suggested that protesting Trump could result in a monetary reward.

The Washington Post confirmed a Russian propaganda campaign was spreading fake news in an effort to undermine Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and promote Trump, who has been vocal about restoring U.S.-Russian relations.

The rise of hoax stories affects the overall attitude toward professional journalists, Mary Puzder, a sophomore studying journalism, said.

“It’s super annoying because it discredits other news sources,” she said. “As a journalism major, I’m noticing it more and more.”

Oftentimes people will share articles on social media sites without reading it because of the headline or the tweet framing it, Puzder said. Because of that, she said readers must be ready to fact-check. A recent Stanford study, however, found that 82 percent of middle school to college students cannot differentiate between real and fake news sources.

Because of the difficulty some readers face in identifying hoax news sites, Burgess said some people are questioning the obligation of social media sites to regulate fake news. Google said it will not allow websites that post fake news to use its advertising services. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, announced that his website may begin to identify stories as “false” or automatically detect misinformation.

“It’s definitely not the social media site’s fault,” Puzder said. “It’s a maturity and media literacy problem that people need to go into and people can’t blindly trust the news.”

Jared Scales, an undecided junior, writes satire for Black Sheep at OU. Satire is a comedic and unrealistic spin on real news.

“There’s definitely a problem with fake news because there’s so much being circulated,” Scales said. “We are very clearly writing satire. … We’re looking to make people laugh. The real fake news is not comedic and it’s trying to pass itself off as something that’s real.”

The rise of fake news could potentially lead to debates about legality, Burgess said.

“Is there an obligation on social media to fact-check?” she said. “What is the status of social media relative to the first amendment? We’re going to see that in the days ahead.”

Puzder suggested that people worried about consuming fake news should take cautionary steps before deeming a source as credible.

“I would say look at the URL of where the source is coming from,” she said. “Look at the intent of the author. Look into if they’re biased. … You can start making a difference by showing your family and friends credible sources.”



Originally published for The Post on November 29, 2016.


Steve Stivers re-elected to 15th District House seat, defeats Scott Wharton


Republican Steve Stivers won 66.22 percent of the vote to reclaim his seat as Ohio’s 15th District House representative, defeating Democrat Scott Wharton and winning his fourth term.

In Athens County, Wharton received 59.24 percent of the vote, while Stivers claimed 40.76 percent. Wharton is an Ohio University alumnus.

“I’m extremely happy,” Ryan Evans, the vice president of the Ohio University College Republicans, said. “We had two (OU) College Republicans interns on his campaign. It’s a testament to how much work they’ve done and how much work we have done.”

Stivers became the representative for the 15th District in 2011, replacing Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, who served from 2009 to 2011. He also defeated Wharton in 2014.

“Scott Wharton has been fighting an uphill battle in a district that has an incredibly low democratic performance index,” John Haseley, chair of the Athens County Democratic Party, said. “Scott Wharton has worked so hard and he’s such a good guy. … He will someday be a great member of Congress.”

Stivers, an Ohio State University alumnus from Ripley, represents 12 counties in the 15th U.S. House District. The 15th District includes all of Athens, Clinton, Fairfield, Hocking, Madison, Morgan, Perry, Pickaway and Vinton counties along with parts of Fayette, Franklin and Ross counties.

“I am honored that the voters of the 15th Congressional District have entrusted me to represent them for another term,” Stivers said in a news release.

Stivers focused on programs during his career to create jobs and promote economic growth. Two of his bills, which called to rename postal facilities in Ohio’s 15th District after fallen veterans, made their way to the Oval Office for presidential approval. He served 30 years in the Ohio Army National Guard. He holds the rank of Colonel.

Stivers has served three terms on the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives. The committee is in charge of banking, insurance, real estate, public and assistant housing, and security industries. Before serving the public, Stivers also worked in finance in the private sector for the Ohio Company and Bank One.

Additionally, Stivers has been part of the Committee on Rules, which determines what bills reach the House Floor for a vote.

Stivers has been vocal about fighting the war against the opiate epidemic in the United States. He cosponsored a bill signed into action in November 2015 to ensure federal response to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a condition where a baby is born addicted to drugs.

“America faces many challenges and deserves leaders who will focus on solving problems,” Stivers said in a news release. “I look forward to getting back to work to balance our budget, create an atmosphere for jobs, and to ensure our military remains the best fighting force in the world.”





Originally published for The Post on November 8, 2016. Appeared in print on November 9, 2016.

Schmidt hopes to unseat incumbents in upcoming school board election

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

On Tuesday, November 3, voters will select the candidates that will fill the two open seats on the Mason City Schools Board of Education. Campaigning for these spots are incumbents Kevin Wise and Courtney Allen, as well as community member Erin Schmidt. Of these three candidates on the poll this election, voters can choose two to represent the district. The elected officials will serve on the Board for four years.

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Courtney Allen, incumbent School Board President, hopes to continue to have a say in big decisions. Photo contributed by Courtney Allen.

According to Allen, incumbent Board President, being a current member running for re-election has both its advantages and disadvantages.

“I feel the district has faced some tough challenges during my first term,” Allen said. “The Board made some difficult decisions and worked hard to overcome those challenges and move the district in a positive direction. I feel we have been very successful which may provide an advantage. With any big decision, however, you’re going to have people who agree and people who disagree, which can convert into an advantage or a disadvantage, respectfully, when it comes time for re-election.”

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School board candidate Erin Schmidt hopes to gain a position on the Mason City School Board. Photo contributed by Erin Schmidt.

Schmidt said she thinks that introducing herself as a fresh face running for Board could work in her favor towards winning the election.

“I feel at an advantage running against two incumbents,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes being the new name and face garners more attention because people want to see what you are about…I also think many residents of the school district feel it is time for a change.”

According to Schmidt, her desire to run for the Board of Education stemmed from volunteering in her children’s classrooms and witnessing firsthand the problems students and teachers face on a daily basis.

“In the last couple of years, I have seen an increase in the stresses placed on classroom teachers in the form of testing mandates and unfair evaluation measures,” Schmidt said. “Those stresses affect you as students.  My interest in running for a Board seat began with a desire to be a voice for Mason’s amazing teachers and, in turn, a voice for the students.”

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Kevin Wise, incumbent board member, hopes to continue to represent the board. Photo contributed by Kevin Wise.

The three candidates were in agreement that state legislations and mandates, such as funding and standardized testing, were at the forefront of the issues currently facing the district. Kevin Wise, incumbent Board member since 2002, said he hopes to address these government regulations in Mason.

“Federal and State mandates are putting more and more pressure on school districts and Mason is no different,” Wise said. “I want to assure Mason remains able to defend against these intrusions and flexible enough to navigate all of the changes.”

The three candidates said they feel a pull towards the Board of Education because of their children’s involvement in Mason schools. According to incumbent Board President Courtney Allen, the board allows her to actively make changes to benefit all students, and in turn, her own children.

“My family is very important to me, as is the school district and community we live in,” Allen said. “I firmly believe that our school district is a great source of pride and plays a major role in the strength of our community. With my 3 most prized possessions–my children–all in the Mason School District, and my family being vested members of the community, the School Board continues to be a perfect opportunity for me to utilize my skills and passion to make a difference.”

Ultimately, the goal of any candidate that is elected is to represent and be an advocate for the students, teachers, and district as a whole, according to Allen.

“As a Board, our goal is to support and protect what makes Mason special and strong,” Allen said. “I want the Board to continue to show good financial stewardship, while prioritizing the educational needs of the students…The most rewarding part about being on the School Board is definitely seeing the successes of the students, the staff, and the district.”