This event aimed to teach people how to recognize and protect themselves from questionable news sources, online scams, and other practices that obscure the dividing line between fact and fiction.
May 3, 2019

The No Fooling Fair: A Verifiable Success

April Fool’s Day took on a whole new meaning this year at PCCC with the debut of the No Fooling Fair, an all-day, college-wide event that aimed to teach people how to recognize and protect themselves from the modern day plagues of questionable news sources, online scams, and other practices that obscure the dividing line between fact and fiction.

The event was conceived and organized by Elizabeth Pachella, Elaine Goldman, and Ken Karol of the Library Resource Committee (LRC). “I came across a popular course developed by professors at the University of Washington, titled “Calling Bull,” explained Ms. Pachella. The aim of that course, according to is “to help students navigate the bull-rich modern environment by identifying bull, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument.”

Intrigued by the idea, the LRC trio proposed creating a one day event around the theme of being an informed consumer of information. Response from faculty, administrators, and other staff was enthusiastic, so the No Fooling Fair was born on April Fool’s Day, with the slogan “Get Savvy, Stay Safe, No Fooling.”

Events and exhibits unfolded on the Paterson, Wanaque, and Passaic campuses, as well as online, with presentations in the Paterson theater transmitted to the other locations. “Every department we sought assistance from provided us with excellent support,” said Pachella.

Faculty, student groups, library staff, and college administrators joined forces to create over a dozen presentations, workshops, games, and poster exhibits on topics ranging from how to do a reverse image search online to guidelines about tipping practices, and even virtual reality experiences. Several presentations were repeated multiple times throughout the day and evening and most were no more than 20 minutes long.

Professor Nina-Louise Alsbrook offered “First, Fast, and Flawed,” a presentation about how the internet has transformed news reporting by stressing speed over accuracy. Drawing on examples from the headlines, Professor Alsbrook showed how getting a story posted fast often resulted in unconfirmed or incomplete results, and how a first report could evolve into a very different story over time. “That’s the price we pay for news in an instant world,” said Professor Alsbrook who advised the audience to read news articles critically and not take the first report as the final word.

Riad Hammoudi from PCCC’s Information Technology department tackled the topic of phishing emails, those messages that appear in your Inbox with catchy text that encourages you to click a link for information. “Never click unless you’re sure the email is valid,” advised Hammoudi. Some clues that a message may be suspect, he said, include misspellings and other errors, a URL that does not match the company name the message purports to represent, or a company logo that differs from the authentic one.

“Managing Your Digital Footprint,” was an engrossing presentation offered throughout the day by rotating teams of CIS honors students. In one session, Youssef Cisse revealed a frightening reality, “Your digital footprint is permanent,” he told the audience. He and co-presenter Florencia Orelogio offered valuable tips for deleting from the internet personal information you don’t want online and also for preventing search engines from collecting your information in the future. “You can go incognito,” said Florencia, directing attendees to and other websites that help to maintain personal privacy online.

In one of the most fun events, “The Real Deal,” the Student Government Association recreated of the classic television program “To Tell The Truth,” in which four panelists asked questions of three contestants, trying to discern which of them was the famous author he or she claimed to be. “The purpose of this game is to learn to ask the right questions,” said Tom Moore, a PCCC advisor acting as game show host. In the end, most of the panelists and audience failed to correctly identify the “author,” played by theater major Francisco Martinez.

“If you think fake news is a 21st Century phenomenon, think again,” read a sign at the fascinating poster exhibit by Professor Martha Brozyna’s Western Civilization class. Cleverly designed posters, displayed in the Paterson campus library, described scams, charlatans, fakes, and scientific misinformation that fooled many over the decades.

One poster told the story of Gregor MacGregor, a nineteenth century general in the Scottish Royal Navy and major con man who pulled off a stunning real estate scam. Pretending to be a prince from Poyais, a region where he said residents enjoyed fertile land and the good life, MacGregor convinced scores of people to invest in a journey to this Central American utopia.
When the travelers arrived, they found only a desolate wasteland. There was no such place as Poyais and no prince. Eventually, MacGregor was caught and sent to prison.

Exploring other ways reality can be distorted, Matt McAteer, an instructor from PCCC’s Writing Center presented “Literature Fact or Fiction: Who Has What It Takes To Be a Writer?” With the goal “to inspire students who would like to pursue a career in creative writing, but think they can’t,” Mr. McAteer cited some of the common reasons why people think they can’t be writers and created a poster highlighting authors whose successes disprove those reasons. For example, students with learning disabilities may think a writing career is out of reach, but Mr. McAteer’s poster shows that F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and other important works in American literature, succeeded as a writer despite being dyslexic.

“Based on my observations I am very pleased with the success of the No Fooling Fair,” said Ms. Pachella, who indicated that it may become a regular event at PCCC. And that’s the truth.

See Facebook for more photos of the No Fooling Fair.

Article and photos by Linda Telesco