Break down your breaking news: Or, our April Fools’ prank got you guys good

By: Cody Boteler, Editor-in-Chief

Oh man. You guys all fell for it. And fell hard.

We published a “story,” on Saturday, claiming that parking fees would increase by over $150 and people FREAKED out. A fair number of people read until they got to the new parking fee and decided to comment about the story on social media.

If only those readers had kept going! They would have reached a paragraph that said, more or less, that every single building on campus was being torn down to be replaced by a parking lot.

And, yes, even the parking garages were to be torn down and replaced with a parking lot, according to our article.

It was, to be clear, all a joke. We do an April Fools’ article every single year, and without fail, people take to social media to complain about the story before they realize it’s not real.

While I thought it was hilarious in the context of an April Fools’ story about parking, it was a little scary in the broader political context. Our story had some dead giveaways that it was fake. For example:

The byline was “staff reports,” something that we never do.

The announcement came “late at night” on the third floor of a parking garage—hardly the place for a ceremonial announcement.

EVERY single building would be demolished and replaced with a parking lot.

And, the real kicker, there was a note at the bottom of the page that said the article was an April Fools’ Day joke.

I think any one of those should have been a pretty serious indicator that something was up—and all of those together should have made it entirely clear that it was, well, fake news.

But people shared it and were angry about it – someone even challenged us and insisted that they had in fact read the article. (Of course, I knew they hadn’t, because of the disclaimer at the end…and the fact that the story gets more ridiculous as it goes on.)

It was a harsh lesson in how effective “fake news” is on social media. People see headlines and beginnings of stories and react. I was shocked at how many people fell for the article and how few challenged us on it.

I implore you, news-reader. Check sources. Read entire stories for context. Look for bylines and see if the authors are reputable reporters. While, yes, there are news outlets that can be trusted more or less implicitly, your friends and family on Facebook are probably sharing stories from more than just the New York Times or Baltimore Sun.

There’s too much information out there – and too much misinformation – to take things at face value without a big, healthy dose of critical thinking.

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