Fake News Course Syllabus

“Fake News” and the Search for Truth in Today’s Media
HNRS 308  ~  Spring 2018
Abbreviated Syllabus

Course description: 

 “Fake news” has captured the attention of politicians, the media, and the general public since 2016.  But the concept is hardly new; it has existed in some form for centuries. In this Honors course, we will explore the history of fake news in different media, culminating in an examination of the modern phenomenon of fake news.  We will learn information literacy techniques for evaluating news sources and will study a specific contemporary manifestation of “fake news” in depth.

Learning outcomes:

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

●     Define fake news and discuss its history

●     Describe the modern phenomenon of fake news and discuss its significance

●     Identify examples of fake news in different media

●     Evaluate news sources in depth

●     Make educated choices with regard to the veracity of news

Texts: Readings, listenings, & viewings will be provided online, on Canvas, or in class.  


·         Reading / listening / viewing responses (35%).  You will complete brief responses to texts before the class sessions in which we will discuss them. 

·         Final essay (20%): At the end of the semester, you will outline your future strategies for staying well informed and separating fact from fiction.

·         Fake news project (35%): You will follow “fake news” emanating from a particular organization, individual, or website, analyzing the origin, dissemination, and appeal of this kind of news and what might be done to prevent it from spreading.  In our final class session, you will present your findings and recommendations to your classmates.  This project may be completed in pairs or individually.  More information about this assignment will be given in class.

·         Class participation (10%). For the purposes of this class, participation includes attendance, thoughtful contributions to class discussions and other activities, and demonstration that you are making an effort to master the material covered in this course. 

Fake News Project

Please choose ONE of the following two options (just one!) for your project:

Option #1:

Follow a set of fake news stories either emanating from a particular individual or website, and/or concerning a particular individual or event (e.g., Paul Horner’s fake news stories about the 2016 election; debunked Trump tweets from a certain time period; false stories about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Roy Moore or Doug Jones or Alabama or…you name it!)  Snopes.com has numerous good examples.  Be sure your set contains at least 6 “fake news” stories.

·         What does this “fake news” look like, and how do you know it is fake?  Provide a general description as well as examples.

·         Where did these falsehoods originate?

·         How was the fake news disseminated?

·         What factors would lead people to believe this kind of news?  Are there specific groups that might be particularly vulnerable to this fake news?

·         In your analysis, what steps could be taken to prevent the spread of this kind of fake news?

Option #2:

Compare the coverage of a controversial news story or issue (e.g., immigration, national anthem protests, gun control, free trade agreements) in two news sources with very different perspectives (e.g., Fox News vs. MSNBC cable newscasts; Breitbart News vs. Occupy Democrats websites; Rush Limbaugh vs. Democracy Now podcasts; Washington Post vs. Wall Street Journal newspapers).  Please examine 3 stories on the issue or news story from each of the 2 sources (for a total of 6 stories).

·         What sources do the sites draw on for their coverage (e.g., whom do they quote, whom do they interview, what news clips do they play, what images do they use)?

·         Who do you think are the intended audiences for these sites?

·         Overall, how would you say the coverage of this story or issue differs across the two sites?  What evidence do you see of a particular “conservative” or “liberal” perspective?

·         Which site do you find more credible?  Why?

·         What value might there be in following these news sources?  Is there a “middle ground” news source you would recommend (and if so, why)?

On May 1, you will hand in a written paper answering the questions above and present your findings to the class, using visual aids as appropriate.  The written paper should be approximately 4 to 5 pages in length (12-pt., double spaced), and the presentation should be approximately 10 minutes long.  Please cite your news stories, along with any other material you may draw on, in APA style at the end of the paper. You may choose to work with a partner; if you do so, please examine 10 stories over 7 to 8 pages and plan to present for approximately 15 minutes.  This project is worth 35% of the grade for this class.

“Fake News” Course Calendar

Jan. 15
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday – no class meeting

Introduction to the course

Read over the syllabus and post any questions you may have (in Canvas)

Write your own brief (1 paragraph) definition of “fake news,” for our first meeting.


Jan. 22

What is fake news, and why is it such a hot topic?

Come to class prepared to discuss your definitions, where you get your news, and what fake news you may have encountered.

Jan. 29

Newspapers and fake news

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 (Hoaxes.org)

The real history of fake news (Columbia Journalism Review, 12/15/16)

Response #1 due


Feb. 5

Radio and fake news

War of the Worlds Broadcast, 10/30/1938

Radio Daze (The Martians Have Landed! 2011 - on Canvas)

Response #2 due

Feb. 12

Evaluation tools and techniques, Part 1

Truth, Truthiness, Triangulation: A News Literacy Toolkit for a “Post-Truth” World (School Library Journal, 11/26/16)

In-class evaluation activity


Feb. 19

Fake news and television

Fox News and the Performance of Ideology (Cinema Journal, Summer 2012)

Response #3 due


Feb. 26

Humor and satire

What is the History of the Daily Show? (ScreenPrism, 7/22/16)

Watch an episode of The Daily Show

Read a news story from The Onion

Response #4 due



Mar. 5

Fake science

Real News about Fake Science (Psychology Today, Sept. 2017)

In-class scientific literacy activity
Fake news project topic due


Mar. 12

Fake news and the Internet

Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election (Journal of Economic Perspectives)

Response #5 due


Mar. 19

Evaluation tools and techniques, Part 2

Come to class prepared to show-and-tell one of the following sites/tools: Snopes, HoaxSlayer, Politifact, FactCheck.org, Read Across the Aisle, AllSides, Washington Post Fact Checker, OpenMind


Mar. 26 



Apr. 2

Google and online advertising

Without these ads, there wouldn't be money in fake news (Los Angeles Times, 12/8/16)

Fact Check Now Available in Google Search and News Around the World (Google Blog, 4/7/17)


Apr. 9

Facebook and fake news

Russians took a page from corporate America by using Facebook tool to ID and influence voters (The Washington Post, 10/2/17)

Facebook modifies the way it alerts users to fake news (CNN, 12/21/17)

Response #6 due


Apr. 16

Twitter and fake news

How Twitter Is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation (The New York Times, 5/31/17)

The College Kids Doing What Twitter Won't (Wired, 11/1/17)

Response #7 due


Apr. 23

Strategies for informed citizenship

Final Essay due


Tuesday, May 1, 10:30 a.m. (Finals week)

Fake News Project due

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