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This week is National News Literacy week.

News literacy is “the ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports,” according to Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy.

Why is news literacy important? Social media has changed the way information is disseminated. There are no gatekeepers to verify information before it’s put before news consumers.

How can you tell if something is news, entertainment, advertising or propaganda? On Facebook, it all looks the same.

The very name Facebook gives to the information it presents to users blurs those very important lines. Facebook calls it your “news feed.” But not much of what appears there is actually news.

With the ability to specifically target people by location, age, race, gender, interests, political perspective — you name it — social media platforms provide previously unimagined opportunities to manipulate public opinion.

Our democracy is at stake.

The Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked troll farm, reached up to 126 million Americans on Facebook during the last presidential election with fraudulent accounts, groups, and advertisements, according to the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The organization’s strategic goal was to sow discord in the U.S. political system, according to the February 2018 federal indictment of the Internet Research Agency and 13 Russians.

And, boy, did that ever work.

Middle school and high school students are now being taught news literacy in many school districts across the country. The News Literacy Project has a curriculum for grades 5-12. Stony Brook University developed a college-level news literacy course.

Elevating news literacy for today’s adult population is crucial. Visit the Stony Brook Center for News Literacy website for resources to help learn how to recognize the differences between fact and rumor, news and advertising, news and opinion, and bias and fairness.

But even if you don’t have time to read up on news literacy, one simple thing will go a long way: think before you share. Where did that post originate? Click on the “information” button Facebook now provides for pages. Go to that Facebook page. Click on the “about” section. If there’s no website listed, that’s a red flag. If there is a website listed, check it out. Visit the site. Do stories have bylines? Is there an “about” section identifying its publisher?

The troll farms are alive and well and targeting our elections. They were active in 2018 and they’re still at it this year.

The only way they succeed is if we let them.

Events this week

This week is your last chance to see the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit at Riverhead Free Library. The exhibit, presented by the African American Educational & Cultural Festival, comes down on Wednesday.

On Saturday, Feb. 1, the AAECF will unveil a new exhibit for Black History Month, a month-long national celebration that starts on Feb. 1 and ends on Feb. 28. The AAECF’s Black History Showcase will be on view for the whole month of February, closing with a special reception on Friday, Feb. 28 from 6 to 10 p.m., featuring readings and performances.

A comedy show that takes aim at racism takes place Tuesday evening at the Senior and Human Resource Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue. “United We Laugh,” a cutting-edge new comedy show seeking to tackle discrimination through laughter and conversation, kicks off the evening with stand-up comics. Act two is a conversation with the audience moderated by James “Dr. Love” Banks.

Public meetings

Monday, Jan. 27
Landmarks Preservation Commission, 4 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 29
Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve-Calverton Restoration Advisory Board meeting 7 p.m., Manorville Fire Department, 14 Silas Carter Road, Manorville

Thursday, Jan. 30
Town Board work session, 10 a.m.

In case you missed it

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.