Students put their disinformation skills to the test in April at the inaugural What the Hackathon event hosted by the Cox Institute.
Students met in Studio 100, where they formed teams to address three disinformation challenges. The groups identified markers of fake news, determined the validity of a post circulating in a private Facebook group about a protest and brainstormed what issues they thought could become significant pieces of disinformation. Students also listened to a segment of the “What the Hack?” podcast, hosted by Adam Levin, who sponsored the April 14 event.
Amanda Bright, the director of the Journalism Innovation Lab, said the Hackathon was meant to teach students how to proactively combat disinformation.
“It’s fine to learn that disinformation is rife across digital media, but it’s another thing to know that in a pinch, in a quick situation, you can spot it, figure it out and figure out what to do about it,” Bright said.
Bright, along with Lori Johnston, director of the Journalism Writing Lab, and graduate assistant Kate Hester, judged the groups. Students in Media Savvy: Becoming Digitally Literate, the Certificate in News Literacy’s capstone course, were among the participants.
Hester said it was rewarding to see students hone their skills to combat disinformation in their professional and personal lives. She said as false news becomes more prevalent, it’s more common to encounter it both in the newsroom and at family gatherings.
“Events like these teach students to recognize that and say, ‘Hey, no, this actually isn’t real, and this is why,’” Hester said.
Bright said the most exciting part of the event was watching ideas fly between students as they collaborated. She said fighting disinformation is a “team sport.”
Going forward, the Hackathon will be held once a semester. Bright envisions adding a newsroom simulation where students are challenged with disinformation in real time.
“The idea is to try to create a situation where people feel like they can actually navigate this stuff in real life,” Bright said.
The What the Hackathon is part of the Cox Institute’s mission to train students in media literacy. The Institute offers a Certificate in News Literacy that enhances students’ ability to discern between credible information and information disorder through critical examination of how we access, analyze, verify, create and share media messages with an emphasis on news. The certificate is open to all students enrolled at the University of Georgia.