HBCUs Need More Fake News

Because our real news could stand to go viral every now and again.

Because our real news could stand to go viral every now and again.

Howard University’s Cameron Clarke was this week named as a Rhodes Scholar, meaning that he’s one of less than 100 people worldwide deemed smart enough and a worthy-enough prospect with world changing potential to study at one of the world’s oldest predominantly white institutions for a year, with a lifetime of opportunity and achievement likely to follow.

Howard student named university's fourth Rhodes Scholar
Howard University senior Cameron Clarke has been selected as the fourth Rhodes Scholar in the school's history and the…www.washingtonpost.com

This is Howard’s fourth student to be named to the elite scholar program, and it is the second consecutive year an HBCU student has earned his way into the global spotlight; Clarke follows Morehouse College’s Prince Abudu in last year’s cohort.

Morehouse College Senior Selected to 2016 International Rhodes Scholar Class ‹ Morehouse College…
09 Dec 2015 Posted by Morehouse News Prince Abudu is 4th Morehouse Student to be Selected ATLANTA, GA-Dec. 9, 2015…www.morehouse.edu

Howard officials have played this exactly right (with the exception of ignoring my request to interview Clarke on HBCU Digest Radio). The news is featured on the front page of the website. HU President Wayne Frederick posted about it on Facebook, and the university’s account shared it. Thousands of people have helped the news to trend nationally.

But it’s clear that not enough black folks nationwide have made this a big enough story, because if we had, it would’ve been picked up by national broadcast and print outlets seeking to capitalize on trending social coverage, much in the same way national media capitalized on Meharry Medical College alumna Tamika Cross being barred from aiding a fellow Delta Airlines passenger with medical treatment during a perceived emergency.

Meharry Grad Tamika Cross Says Delta Barred Her From Aiding with Medical Emergency
Sparks national ‘What a doctor looks like’ movement.hbcudigest.com

So it becomes clear that we have a few options for promoting extraordinary people doing extraordinary things at historically black schools. In order:

  1. Actively read and advertise in black-owned media to grow big enough to help shape a national narrative on black college achievement

  2. Protest newspapers and broadcast stations and demand more equitable coverage

  3. Become proficient in the production of fake news, in order to build more engaged audiences

Truthfully, black folks aren’t going to bring Ebony Magazine back from the brink, and probably don’t have time to storm media outlets on the edge of the holiday season. So fake news may be our best chance at promoting a halfway stable HBCU media agenda.

If you haven’t heard about the fake news movement, it is essentially the production of false headlines and content which, by the power of social media, gains so much traction from shares and retweets that by the time most people realize that the content they shared to thousands of their followers is false, it has pollinated so many timelines around the world that it would be impossible to debunk the falsehoods to that many people at once.

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study
Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Tex., had just about 40 Twitter followers. But…www.nytimes.com

To be honest, HBCUs do an excellent job of promoting almost-fake news already. We rarely engage in social discussions on policy, political influence, research, finance and leadership — all story topics deserving of widespread attention.

But let an HBCU do a mannequin challenge and watch how mainstream media acts up.

Morgan State students do social-justice-themed take on mannequin challenge
Dozens of Morgan State University students gathered at the school's academic quad Friday around noon. Some held up…www.baltimoresun.com

On its own, and from the perspective of students leading the dialog on social justice reprogramming, it is timely and exactly what young activists should be doing in the digital age.

But where are the alumni who extend the conversation? Where are the graduates and professionals who use this video as a platform to advance the conversation above the student pay grade; like how Baltimore City and the federal Department of Justice are likely to delay a settlement negotiation in the investigation of the city’s police department?

Politicians ask Justice Dept about talks on Baltimore's police
WASHINGTON Maryland congressional representatives have asked the U.S. Justice Department about the status of talks on…www.reuters.com

This is why we need fake news. Because if I suddenly decide to publish a headline “Baltimore City Officials Ignore Morgan State Students’ Call for Police Reform,” it would be the kind of headline that would attract millions of views, shares and comments.

Fake news.

We go berserk on Twitter and Facebook about comments from people like Sage Steele, Kanye West, Charles Barkley, Stacey Dash, and other new blacks. Meanwhile, Howard University Professor and HBCU Award winner Greg Carr, and hundreds of other dynamic HBCU faculty are still well below their deserved 1 million Twitter followers a piece.

Fake newsmakers.

So we might have to step up our useless content quotient, in order to better captivate our fractured audience with short attention spans more easily fed by controversial or less useful content. Take a look at the recent headlines and traffic from Digest posts this week.

HBCUDIGEST.COM Reading Stats

Four stories, collectively discussing a FAMU graduate winning a National Book Award for non-fiction, a podcast series featuring graduates working in high-level positions in the STEM fields, an altered presidential search, and post discussing South Carolina State University’s economic impact, COLLECTIVELY, gross about 400 more hits than one story on Southern University violating NCAA compliance rules.

Bad news.

We love fake news, fake newsmakers and bad news; and then complain about the kind of coverage we get, and the issues we wish would get coverage that fail to do so. Part of that is my fault, because I’m trained to know that salacious headlines will keep you coming back, keep you hating that one of your own is among the most active contributors to anti-HBCU narratives gaining strength, and loving to build that hate on a regular basis.

I know that’s why Bossip, WorldStar Hip Hop and other sites flourish, while content rich sites offering responsible context on the black experience, languish to survive.

We may not admit it, but we’re just as bad as the Alt-Right crowd which used anti-Trump fake news to spur engagement with Donald Trump supporters, rabid and casual alike, in an unprecedented and successful run for the nation’s highest office.

For the 'new yellow journalists,' opportunity comes in clicks and bucks
Fewer than 2,000 readers are on his website when Paris Wade, 26, awakens from a nap, reaches for his laptop and thinks…www.washingtonpost.com

This might be the only way that our Rhodes scholars get the attention they deserve: to build a culture so amped up and attentive to fake and useless news, that when real news comes down the timeline, we’re naturally conditioned to share it with our stakeholders.

Conditioned. Now that’s what I call really bad, real news.