Reiner advises students not to fall for the fake news hoax: Stony Brook professor emphasizes the importance of preserving good news


Professor Steven Reiner from Stony Brook University gave a lecture about news literacy, and the importance of recognizing fake news.

Niki Gillman, Assistant News Editor

Recently a new phenomenon has struck the country, causing problems that have proved catastrophic in some situations. That occurrence is the spread of fake news articles on social media. Although fake news has always existed in the form of rumors, it has spread to a new level in recent months, causing concern all over the world.

The problem has become so vast that Schreiber brought in an expert on the topic, Professor Steven Reiner, in an attempt to shed a light on the issue and teach students how to spot fake news when they are exposed to it. Reiner has worked for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and CBS in the past, and he now teaches courses in News Literacy at Stony Brook University. He came to Schreiber to educate the future generation on how to eradicate fake news once and for all.  Fake news has become a part of most people’s vocabulary in light of the recent, divisive presidential election.

“People tend to read material they agree with. We exist in intellectually gated communities, and we stay in our comfort zones to the point that we don’t let other information in,” said Reiner.

The fakes news problem normally originates on hoax websites, whose sole purpose is to spread false stories around the internet. These stories are then shared to various different social media sources, which in turn promote the stories on private timelines.

“As most of the general population isn’t directly involved in politics, or anything similarly important on a large scale, the only place we can be kept up to date on what is changing to affect us in the world is news.” said junior Isabelle Verdino. “Publishing fake news, even as a joke, is damaging because it leaves people unsure what sources, if any, they can trust.”

On March 14, an array of students gathered in the library to listen to Mr. Reiner’s lecture on the dangers of fake news. Throughout the hour-long presentation, he covered a multitude of topics pertaining to fake news, in particular, how to spot it, and how to keep it from spreading.

“We are all editors,” Reiner told the crowd. “Each one of you has the power to reach millions through social media. One way to make sure that journalism survives and thrives is to educate the consumers of good journalism.”

He urged students to be wary of articles they may see floating around on social media. Oftentimes, fake publications will acquire a name that sounds very similar to largely known, reliable sources, like the hoax website These websites will put a lot of money into making their website look legitimate, and they are often the fountainheads of fake news. To avoid being fooled by a fake news website, Reiner suggested that students search the topic of the article on a reliable search engine, and see if there are other sources to back up the claims made in the article. Getting your news from multiple sources and practicing “news literacy” are the best strategies for avoiding fake news, according to Reiner. He also pointed out that there’s a fine line between opinionated news and propaganda.

“The intentional dissemination of falsehood as fact and the creation of alternative scenarios based on fiction is a key part of what makes up propaganda,” he said. “Therefore, it’s important not to confuse the messenger of news with the message itself, even if the sender of that news is a friend or family member.”

Another hoax that Reiner warned against was photoshopped pictures. In this case, the phrase “A picture’s worth a thousand words” can have a negative connotation, as many false publications will alter photos to make them more provocative and elicit a greater reaction. To counter this phenomenon, Reiner suggested that students copy pictures from the publication and perform a reverse image search on Google.

Above all, he stressed the idea that every student has the power to right the wrongs made by false publications.In his parting words, he  told the students the story of a reporter who had facilitated the spreading of fake news when he wrote that bodies of the deceased victims of Hurricane Katrina were being stored in the freezer and guarded by the National Guard. And while there was a freezer, and it was being guarded by the National Guard, it was not because there were dead bodies being stored inside. So to end his presentation, Reiner left the students with a final piece of advice.

“Come as close as you can to taking a look for yourself,” he said. “Open the freezer!”