LSU website warns of fake virus news

By Katherine Manuel / LSU Manship School News Service


BATON ROUGE — Circulation of misinformation about the coronavirus and other fake news is a threat to social-media consumers worldwide, but one LSU professor is leading a team of students to educate the public through a website.


Leonard Apcar, a professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, founded detectfakenews.com, a site designed to inform audiences about the dangers of fake news and offer tools to identify it, including misinformation surrounding COVID-19.


According to the website, identifying fake news involves checking the quotes, images, attribution, sources, bias and a website’s URL address. Apcar says media consumers should look for independent and corroborated reporting.


The site posts articles that identify fake items, and Apcar and his students update followers via a Twitter account, @detectfakenews. 


One of the stories, by a French news agency, describes how social media accounts linked to Russia have launched a coordinated campaign to spread panic about the coronavirus through fake news. The article says that the Russian accounts are spreading conspiracies that the United States was behind the COVID-19 outbreak.


Some posts say that the virus was manufactured by the CIA to disrupt China’s economy, while others falsely blame the charitable foundation led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates for spreading it.


The LSU site also includes an article from the Washington Post, in which a State Department official blames Russia for spreading the misinformation, and an article from the New York Times about Britain’s efforts to combat coronavirus disinformation. 

“The best way to guard against this is, first of all, to read the story,” Apcar said. “Too many people read headlines and just pass along stories, both true and false.”


The site originated after the 2016 presidential election when a group of LSU students traveled with Apcar to a conference where fake news, media distortion and manipulation were discussed. 


Apcar said the site aims to aggregate research, news, analysis and video so that viewers and voters can learn how to protect themselves from fake news. No other site is gathering all of that in one place.


The website also focuses on politics, citing federal reports that the Russian government “waged cyberware to distract, influence and meddle” in the 2016 election. It also shows fake stories written by people simply trying to make money off them, such as one that circulated that year that said the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump.