By Regina Marchi

We hear a lot about fake news today, but sadly the publication of false news stories for political or economic profit has been around for centuries, often resulting in devastating consequences.  From as early as the 1400s in Italy and other parts of Europe, fake news stories claiming that Jewish people murdered Christian babies and drank their blood were published to incite and justify anti-Semitism. This fake news phenomenon reached frenzied proportions in post WWI Germany, leading to the Holocaust.

Here in the US, newspaper industry mogul William Randolph Hearst published an onslaught of fake news stories about Spain in the 1890s to grow public support and justification for the Spanish-American War. Hearst recognized that a war would sell lots of his newspapers and would jettison him to national prominence. (For more on this, see the PBS documentary Crucible of Empire).

Though he did not have a correspondent on the ground in Cuba as the Cuban rebellion against Spain heated up in 1895, Hearst shamelessly attached Havana datelines to bylined stories manufactured in New York. Today, Hearst’s fake news stories which, among other things, blamed the Spanish government for the February 15, 1898 sinking of the USS Maine without any evidence, are widely acknowledged to have caused the Spanish American War, considered to be the first “media war.”

In the early 1950s, fake news stories accusing Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Árbenz, of being a Communist were published in major US newspapers at the behest of the Boston-based United Fruit Company. Operating banana plantations on the majority of Guatemala’s arable land at the time, United Fruit’s top leaders (who had powerful friends in the Eisenhower Administration and among US newspaper publishers) wanted to end President Arbenz’s plans for agrarian reform. False news stories about Arbenz being a “Communist” convinced the US Congress and the public to support a violent CIA-led military coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954, which ousted President Arbenz and ushered in decades of brutal military regimes from which Guatemala has never politically recovered. (For more on this, see Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer.)

In a less deadly example of fake news, Orsen Welles’ 1938 radio theater broadcast  “War of the Worlds” was subsequently reported by many newspapers to have caused numerous heart attacks and suicide attempts by listeners who were allegedly terrified of an alien invasion (these claims were later found to be mostly false).  As Adrian Chen notes in his New Yorker article “The Fake News Fallacy” (Sept. 4, 2017), newspapers exaggerated the War of the Worlds panic in an attempt to discredit the pubescent medium of radio, which was becoming the dominant source of breaking news in the 1930s. Chen writes: “Newspapers wanted to show that radio was irresponsible and needed guidance from its older, more respectable siblings in the print media, such “guidance” mostly taking the form of lucrative licensing deals and increased ownership of local radio stations.”

Today, fake news proliferates on the Internet, with social media being deployed as weapons of information warfare. In the weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Facebook and Twitter faced widespread criticism for their failure to halt the spread of fake news about Hillary Clinton on their platforms. The problem was not simply that people were able to spread lies but that the digital platforms were designed in ways that made lies especially transmissible, spreading faster than fact checkers could debunk them.

Supposedly “neutral” social media platforms use personalized algorithms to feed users news based on past personal preferences. But this makes it less likely that people will see news that contradicts their worldviews. Today, there is a growing sense among observers that the championing of openness by Facebook and other social media platforms is at odds with the public interest, something we write about in Young People and the Future of News and in the book chapter “Storytelling the Self into Citizenship: How Social Media Practices Facilitate Adolescent and Emerging Adult Political Life,” forthcoming in the edited volume A Networked Self: Birth, Life, Death (Ed. Zizi Papacharissi).


Cambridge University Press has released the book! Here is a news release:



Lynn Schofield Clark


Young people trust friends on social media over news organizations, according to new book

Young People and the Future of News finds that in a time of declining news industries, young people are informing one another through social media—for better or worse

DENVER, September 30, 2017 — With social media, young people are finding out about news events from friends. When they are outraged or drawn into what is happening in current events, they are not only reading and viewing, but also sharing, immersing themselves in, and sometimes even creating news. And, it is changing the way young people define news. That’s according to the authors of Young People and the Future of News Lynn Schofield Clark and Regina Marchi, two journalism professors who studied diverse U.S. young people and their news habits for 10 years.

“Rather than relying on news organizations to tell them what is newsworthy, they’re deciding for themselves—and usually that decision is influenced not by where the news came from, but who told them about it,” says Clark, professor and chair in the media, film and journalism studies department at the University of Denver.

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have skyrocketed as locations for news among young people during the past decade, according to numerous national and international studies. Meanwhile, local newspapers and television news have been laying off staff—and struggling to survive.

The shift from trusted journalistic sources to social media as young people’s main source of news isn’t good news for the organizations of traditional journalism, the book acknowledges.  But members of immigrant communities and communities of color have long felt unheard by and underrepresented within those organizations, according to those interviewed in the book. The book also traces ways that young people in these communities are sharing the news that matters to them outside of formal news channels and away from public scrutiny.

“We used to think of newspapers as playing a central role in informing people of the news needed to participate in a democracy,” Clark says. “But what we found is that now young people are socializing one another into politics. This happens as they draw on the connective capacities of social media as well as on practices we once associated with journalism, like holding people in power accountable.”

“This means that we will need to rethink journalism industries as well as the ways that we educate people both for journalism and for democratic engagement more generally,” says Marchi, professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the Rutgers University. “Across the country, funding for high school journalism clubs and civics classes has been slashed, but students need opportunities to explore the relationship between journalism and democracy now more than ever,” she says.

Clark and Marchi interviewed more than 200 young people and several dozen parents, educators, and other adults working with youth in four U.S. urban areas and compared their findings with national studies on related topics from several research centers. They also considered the platforms that are delivering the news to most young people.

“News is different today,” Marchi said. “And our news distributors—namely Facebook, YouTube and Instagram—need to be held accountable for shaping what’s available and for helping young people and all of us to evaluate it.” The book offers a number of suggestions on this.

The authors praise recent efforts to alert communities to untruths circulating in social media, such as Facebook’s “disputed” tag that indicates that and Politifact have vetted certain information and found it questionable. But they also note that the public needs greater transparency from the social media platforms to counteract the tendency for such platforms to make decisions that benefit them commercially but that may be harmful to public interests. Young people need greater awareness both of the ways that the algorithms of social media platforms work, and of how to be actively involved in shaping the emerging media and political environment, they argue.

“Young people don’t consume news the way adults did (or do), but this doesn’t mean that they’re uninterested in what’s going on,” Clark says. “In fact, research is suggesting that overall, this is a very engaged generation.” The book’s findings confound prior theories that presumed that casual online sharing by youth might be dismissed as mere ‘slactivism.’   “In contrast,” says Marchi, “we suggest that such casual sharings and even observation-only participation can serve an important role as a form of early civic engagement.”

Young People and the Future of News: Social Media and the Rise of Connective Journalism is set for publication on September 15 by Cambridge University Press. For more information, visit

About the Authors

Bio of Lynn Schofield Clark

Clark is Professor and Chair of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies and Director of the Estlow Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver, In addition to Young People and the Future of News, she is author of The Parent App: Understanding Families in a Digital Age (Oxford UP, 2013), and coauthor of Media, Home and Family (Routledge 2004). Her first book, From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural (Oxford UP, 2005), was named Best Scholarly Book by the Ethnography division of the National Communication Association. She teaches courses on diversity in news and media studies.

Bio of Regina Marchi

Marchi is Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the Rutgers University. Her first book, Day of the Dead in the USA: The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenon, won the 2010 James W. Carey Award for Media Research and an International Latino Book Award in the category of “Best history/political book.”


A new study from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism & Media group finds that 74% of people of color get news on social media sites, up from 64% in 2016.

The study also finds that 67% of US adults get news via social media, and for the first time, more than half of Americans over age 50 (55%) say that they get their news on social media sites.

Facebook dominates as the site for news: about 45% of all in the US get news there. 18% now get news from YouTube.

A quick shout-out to those journalists who are placing themselves in harm’s way to cover the devastation in Puerto Rico, as Frances Robles and colleagues at the New York Times have done, and to those who earlier covered the evacuation of the western coast of Florida, as Tampa’s Fox 13 journalists did, and as the Houston Chronicle ‘s journalists continue to cover the devastation in and around south Texas and Louisiana. Journalists are creating helpful resources such as CNN’s stormtrackers and the Orlando Sentinel’s infographic that describes what a hurricane is. And then of course there are those journalists who are doggedly following the daily machinations of the Trump administration at The Washington Post, those finding innovative ways to use data at USA Today to reveal how power and influence operate on Trump’s golf courses, and those who are fact-checking rumors at the New York Times, among other places. There are also interesting innovations such as Buzzfeed’s Outside Your Bubble feature that directs your attention to the ways that various audiences across the internet are responding to the same stories. Let’s hope that stories like these both inform and encourage all of us to act as we can to address overwhelming problems and call our leaders to account.


It’s hard to talk about journalism’s positive contributions today without recognizing the imbalances that are shaping our experiences of news. What do we do about the fact that there are large swaths of the U.S. population who seem to live in a universe where facts, and even fact-checking, is met with resistance because those facts contradict their worldview, causing cognitive dissonance and a backfire effect? What about the reality of a hybrid news system in which there are so many purported sources for news today that the young, and indeed many of all ages, have difficulty separating fact from fiction, as one study by the Stanford Education group suggests? Today it’s easier than ever for us to practice what social scientists term selective exposure. And after all, we engage in selective exposure because, as anthropologist Pascal Boyer is quoted as explaining in Julie Beck’s article on facts in The Atlantic, “Having social support, from an evolutionary standpoint, is far more important than knowing the truth about some facts that do not directly impinge on your life.” This means that we are predisposed to seek out facts that support the worldview that we hold and that those most important to us also hold – and it’s a threat to our very identity to try to deal with facts that challenge that worldview.

All of this leaves me with more questions than answers when it comes to the topic of how today’s young people are participating in changing the definition of “news” through their uses of social media. Yes, it’s a problem that they aren’t relying on traditional sources of evidence and verification and are instead tending to trust what their friends say rather than what is said by (fill in the blank with your own preferred source of news, recognizing that adults don’t agree on this, either). But for me, it’s important to begin with the recognition that this reliance on friends and those we trust for information verification is not a new situation, since social scientists say that as humans we’ve always been inclined to seek confirmation for the way we see the world.

The implications, then, are twofold: first, we need to help to create more support for cultures that value an evidence-based reality. This entails teaching young people how to evaluate information as well as how to grapple with ambiguities, such as when facts contradict their world views. Because dealing with contrary information can threaten deeply-held identities, it involves doing the kind of teaching and dialoguing that is sensitive and empathic and seeks to widen circles of identification rather than harshly reinforcing identity barriers. Also, based on my experiences in working with young people, such conversations involve trying to link new information with what young people know to be true from their own life experiences – especially when that lived knowledge itself is related to injustices that they and their family members and friends know about first hand. We as educators and leaders have to learn to find points of agreement and commonality so that we can support some aspects of what another person takes as truth even as we may also present information that challenges. But we have to do this while also recognizing and acknowledging former and present shared pain.

The second implication is related to the first, and it has to begin with a mind-bender: part of the reason that we think that there is so much support for an “alternative facts” universe is that it makes for a great news story. So many of us are craving information about what is going on that journalists and commentators are obliging our curiosity – as they should – by researching the topics of fake news and alternative facts. Some of this is highly entertaining, like The Guardian’s Top Ten Alternative Facts for a Post-Truth World that highlight films and books such as 1984 and Wag the Dog that seemed to presage today’s strangeness. But all of this attention feeds the sense that this is a large and influential trend that says something about what people actually believe.

Thus, the second implication actually grows out of the slim margin of good news that’s related to journalism. The fact that we are experiencing a dramatic resurgence of interest in and support for high quality journalism, as well as surging interest in emergent voices that are speaking from evidence of their lived realities, is evidence that many, and probably even the majority of people in the U.S., prefer an evidence-based reality to a reality that’s manufactured in support of a worldview. This then reframes the question of the future of news from one focused on human failings to one of system failure. How is it that our systems are making it so that those of the minority are threatening those in the majority?

And this is where we have to turn to questioning things like the rise of Facebook as a news distributor and propagator of fake news, as well as an electoral college system and a media system that inescapably favors coverage of the latest new political crisis instead of coverage on boring topics like laws and policies that for decades have been quietly yet effectively restricting voters from exercising their right to vote, or on how various groups and people are working outside of the spotlight to address those discrepancies in access to democracy. And those are topics for future blogs.

Here’s a study on news consumption in social media spaces that is worth highlighting, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. in March 2017 (too late for inclusion in our book, unfortunately). This was a study that analyzed the news consumption patterns of 376 million Facebook users over 6 years and found that social media practices are indeed changing the ways that we get informed. The study looked at how people interacted with 920 news outlets from around the world, and found that most people confine their attention to only a few pages within what the researchers determined was one of five news communities, thus affirming “strong user polarization.” All of the data for this study and its analysis were gathered and performed using the Facebook graph application programming interface, which is publicly available.  Because the data were preexisting, the authors did not seek ethical approval for the gathering or analyzing of the data and abided by Facebook’s privacy guidelines. The project was funded by the EU Future and Emerging Technologies Multiplex Project by scholars at the University of Venice’s Department of Environmental Science, Computer Science, and Statistics.

Basically, this is providing empirical data to support the selection bias that Facebook and other social media platforms reinforce. People tend to find information that confirms their view of the world.

The question, then, is this: what happens when Facebook, which has clearly come to play an important role in news distribution, is not required to abide by the rules that govern other news distribution systems? What are we to do when we as a public learn that Facebook can accept $100,000 for advertisements that convey false information and that have been purchased by fake accounts associated with a Russian troll operation? The problem with this lack of transparency regarding the purchase of the means to distribute false information, as Sunlight Foundation deputy director Alex Howard says, is that “It removes our ability to have transparency into who is trying to influence our politics, and any accountability for that influence.” He continues: “And it takes away from the capacity of the traditional organs of democracy — that being the press and regulators and other institutions — to figure out who is behind political messaging, particularly at crucial times,” as quoted in an article by Craig Silverman in Buzzfeed. Howard argues that Facebook should have to disclose the same level of information about political ad buys that television and radio stations are required to do.

To me, this seems like it should be an easy argument. Who would be against greater transparency in how ads are bought and sold, as such information might bring attention to those who seek to manipulate public opinion in order to win elections? And yet, when I looked at Buzzfeed’s Outside Your Bubble feature for the Silverman story, critics raised points that seemed to question regulation. On the one hand, some expressed deep distrust in the ability of the U.S. government to regulate effectively (this is a skepticism I don’t share, probably because I know my fair share of government bureaucrats in EPA and in health care who actively work to pursue the interests of the public and to put a check on the interests of the powerful few). On the other hand, there was what I’d call the neoliberal response: leave it up to schools to educate young people about fake news (I do think this is important, but not enough on its own). And perhaps most cynically, some said such regulations wouldn’t go far enough, because donors can still hide how they’re spending their money and there would remain a lot we wouldn’t know and couldn’t address (the most ominous, but insightful, of the critiques, I think).

I think Siva Vaidhyanathan said it best in his op-ed in the New York Times: “we are in a worldwide, internet-based assault on democracy.”  Facebook is undermining democracy in the way that it has been allowed to sell ads in a way that does not differentiate between the hawking of pharmaceuticals and the hawking of politically influential and appealing falsehoods.  They have not had to abide by political advertisement disclosure rules because they, and their legions of lobbyists, have claimed that they are a “platform” rather than a media company. But we have to start approaching Facebook as an international media company that is a public utility. It’s a new kind of entity that requires transnational oversight. We need new models for this kind of governance, to be sure. But if this last election is a sign of things to come without regulation, and many think it is, then we’d better get to work on this.

Participants in the Summer Youth Media Mentoring Project, in a poorly lit phone photo.

Sometimes when you’re an educator, you learn more than you teach. I had a summer like that.

Thanks to the University of Denver’s Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning, my colleagues in the Graduate School of Social Work, along with me and some students from the Media, Film & Journalism Studies department and the Open Media Foundation, worked with junior high students on what was the first step in a year-long leadership development program. Ten students were selected because they have strong leadership potential. They’re part of the University’s Bridge Project, which offers academic tutoring and mentoring for young people in grades K-12. The Bridge Project is a partnership between the University of Denver and the Denver Housing Authority, as there are four Bridge sites located in four neighborhoods of publicly subsidized housing serving around 600+ young people each year.

There are a lot of youth media and arts programs around the country; one study suggests that there are probably about 700 of them. Most are in urban areas, and while they vary in size, more than half operate on less than $100K a year, according to the only authoritative study I could find on the topic. In designing our summer project, borrowed a lot from existing efforts, like confronting different experiences of privilege and holding the space for young people to learn and develop media expertise, growing into leaders while we follow their lead. But there are a few things that may be unique about this particular project.

  1. It’s not a “one-off.”
    1. Those 10 students will work as peer leaders for the rest of the year with about 80 of their fellow junior highers. It’s part of a longer-term youth voice project, otherwise known as a Youth Participatory Action Research Project, that has involved junior highers for the past year in identifying what they’d like to change in their communities. This effort will involve them over the next year in creating plans for them to lead their peers as they work with policymakers to make their voices heard and to participate in the change they want to see in their communities.
    2. We’ll do another media project in a few months, moving the students from personal stories to stories focused on the changes they wish to see in their communities. In other words, they’ll be working on what’s been called Solutions Journalism.
  2. It’s intergenerational. The storytellers were all in junior high, and the mentors ranged in age from high school to middle age plus. Senior educator/mentors mentored and learned from more junior educator/mentors, while they in turn mentored and learned from high school, college, and junior high school students.
  3. It’s interdisciplinary. As a collaboration between a media program and a social work program, we learned from each other about the benefits of developing trusting relationships with youth and their caregivers as we all developed a more sophisticated sense of media representations, the ways that they are interpreted in relation to various publics, and the role of distribution systems like Facebook in getting such stories shared (or not).

I’m working on writing up the report for the summer, and would love to hear from others who have worked in similar settings as we figure out how to communicate what we’ve learned so far, and how we should think about this work moving forward!

After every session, we had dinner together, which was often as much fun as being in the editing lab!