Not long after music superstar Beyoncé revealed she’s expecting twins, news popped up online tying the pregnancy to the Tri-Cities.
The superstar entertainer would be having her babies at Trios Southridge Hospital, said a tweet published Feb. 1.
“(She) plans to reserve the whole city of @KennewickWA during labor,” the tweet said.
It offered no details, no source information, no corroboration. It was dead wrong.
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But that was the point.
The tweet is part of a local interventional art project aimed at exploring the ease, power and impact of misinformation or fake news.
“We are challenging the way people today receive news and how we consume news,” said Daria Naidenov, author of the tweet.
“We’re sending a message that says, ‘Be careful what you read. Make sure you do your research before you share it with others,’” she said.
The project is through Null Set, a local art collaborative. The group has taken on several different projects in the last few years, including publishing a magazine.
Peter Christenson, assistant professor of fine arts at Washington State University Tri-Cities, is the catalyst behind Null Set.
We are challenging the way people today receive news and how we consume news
He invited students in his Information Structures class — Naidenov is among them — to take part in the fake news campaign. They’ve been tweeting on the parody news account @nullsetnews.
The public is also encouraged to participate by tweeting to @nullsetnews or using the hashtag #nullsetnews.
Christenson said he’s trying to do minimal curation, although the goal is to keep the tweets “within respectful boundaries.”
The @nullsetnews tweets so far have largely been funny and/or thought-provoking, like one claiming the late public television host Bob Ross once made a painting of Badger Mountain, or another saying Kennewick residents were protesting a wall going up around Richland.
Some of the tweets even have turned out to be aspirational — envisioning new businesses, conveniences or attractions, from the Tri-Cities Airport offering flights to Japan, to a VooDoo Doughnut shop in town.
“A lot of the tweets are positive and inspiring. Maybe somebody will pick up on an idea (as a result),” Naidenov said.
Ivan Roman, another student who’s been tweeting, said he was surprised at how easy it’s been to put out misinformation. It only takes a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.
He hopes the tweets get people’s attention and shine a light.
“I see some people liking and re-tweeting. I really hope it at least starts a local dialogue,” he said. “(Perhaps) it could grow into something that could foster a larger conversation at a local level.”
That’s Christenson’s hope, too.
Misinformation has an impact, he said.
“We see that in our political climate, we see it in a variety of different ways.”
It challenges some of the current paradigms and invites people to think differently about our area, the institutions that are here and what we want from this place. It’s about inviting people to ask questions, find answers, do research.
Peter Christenson, assistant professor of fine arts at Washington State University Tri-Cities
A free press and unbiased media striving for truth — that’s critical, he said.
The fake news project is “a misinformation campaign to force people to get better informed about their community and their area,” Christenson said.
“It challenges some of the current paradigms and invites people to think differently about our area, the institutions that are here and what we want from this place. It’s about inviting people to ask questions, find answers, do research,” he said.
The project doesn’t have a definite end time. Christenson hopes people continue to participate and that it inspires more projects under the Null Set umbrella.
He’s decided to award the person who participates the most or in the most engaged way a one-year subscription to the Tri-City Herald, in a gesture to “bring it full circle,” he said.