February 15, 2017TRI-CITY AREA — It used to be called propaganda or a hoax, or even more simply put: a lie. Today, it's commonly known as "fake news" or "alternative facts."
Though the reference has changed, the effect is just as chilling as it was in the days before social media and the internet. Fictitious stories crafted out of thin air with the deliberate intention of deceiving readers, often for a money-grab as 'clickbait.'
The more outrageous, the better the chances of fake news being shared online, thus increasing its dissemination as it "goes viral."
During the last presidential election, fake news became a means to sway results, and prompted countless arguments between those on the right and left. It also ruined many relationships among family and friends.
As a member of the generation who is most at risk of being infected by fake news, Cole Lietz decided to take a deep look at the virus. A senior at Imlay City High School, Lietz is also in his second year of the two-year Digital and Media Arts program offered at the Lapeer County Ed Tech Center. He's making a documentary about fake news and its impact on young people and society as a whole.
Lietz says he chose the topic because it has made its way to the forefront of national and global discussion. And it bothers him personally, too.
"I was thinking that fake news is the big thing right now. It's happening right now and we need to find a way to stop it," he says.
For the documentary, Lietz is interviewing his contemporaries in high school, as well as teachers and journalists. He's interested in input regarding tools that could be passed along to help people spot fake news and put a halt to its spreading.
"I have asked a couple of students if they understand fake news and how to discern if it is real or fake, and how they feel about it," Lietz says. "Some don't really know if what they're reading is real or fake, so when I ask them they'll be like, 'yeah, just check the sources,' but I don't really think they know what those sources are. They think if it's online, it's real."
Lietz, like most of his contemporaries, says he gets most of his news from online sources. He's asked teachers and journalists for tips when it comes to spotting fake news, and has even sought their opinions on whether or not the subject should be part of the curriculum in schools.
"We need a way to stop fake news, to teach kids in school how to determine fake news from real news," he says. "That would put a stop to all this."
Lietz has a couple of weeks left to complete the documentary, which he plans to enter into a contest.
In the Digital and Media Arts course, Lietz has learned how to operate all kinds of professional, field-related equipment. For the documentary, he chose a Cannon video camera and the tripod and microphones that go along with it. He's using computer skills and programs he's learned in the class to edit and fine tune his work.
Lietz says he's learning a lot by making the documentary, and he's grateful for the help he's gotten from teachers at the Ed Tech Center—especially course instructor Jennifer Holladay.
"It is a great class and I'm gaining a lot of knowledge," he says.
Lietz is also involved at the news station at the Ed Tech Center, which broadcasts campus-wide once or twice a week.
"I go out and do interviews and put together the main packages," he says.
After graduating, Lietz hopes to take care of undergrad requirements at Macomb Community College before moving onto the journalism program at Central Michigan University.
A natural behind the camera, and an adept interviewer, Lietz isn't sure which end of the lens he'd rather be on at this point.
The son of Heather Lietz and Steven Lietz, when he's not in school you'll find him at Tim Horton's in Imlay City, where he works part time.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.