The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Columnist Spencer Gibbs argues that Penn students should fact-check the news they read before spreading misinformation to others.

Credit: Derek Wong

Last week, I was told that Hillel had been covered in swastikas by a student from the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, neo-Nazis were being supported by the school, dozens of swastikas were spray painted in the halls at the entrance of Meyerson, Liz Magill was directly supporting terrorists, Penn ranked number one in the Wall Street Journal’s top colleges list, and my economics exam scores had been released.

None of this information is true. 

Hillel was vandalized, although not by a student nor with swastikas nor in connection to the festival, contrary to what a Fox News headline suggests. Penn explicitly condemned festival speakers with a “history of engaging in antisemitism.” A single swastika was found graffitied in the spray room of Meyerson Hall and was painted over. 

The only source I can find alleging the support of terrorism is a guest column which states that “many'' festival speakers performed a host of potentially problematic actions, including supporting terrorism. However, this column was written with intentional ambiguity to attach all allegations to all speakers. Even if all true (which should not be granted given the majority of these actions were anti-Israel, not antisemitic), these allegations were tied to 5 of 119 speakers, far from the whole event which Liz Magill and the broader Penn administration allowed to take place.

The Wall Street Journal ranked Penn as doing the most to improve students’ financial futures but not number 1 overall. And my economics exam solutions were released, but exam scores still remain to be seen.

Do not take my word for a single claim that I just made. You have two options; read the citations or your own sources — not just the headlines but the actual, hopefully unbiased news pieces (like those written by The Daily Pennsylvanian) — or stop talking about the issue like you have any idea about what is going on. Sidechat is not a source. Stop saying you were reading the news when you were actually just skimming headlines or perusing social media comments. 

I understand that it is difficult to stay informed about issues as busy students. Most of us do not have time to parse through all of the DP’s abundant content — at time of writing, fifteen different opinion and news articles were published on the Palestine Writes Literature Festival alone — not to mention numerous other publications’ reporting and their sources, for every single issue we care about. But at the same time, it is vital that we, as students and members of a broader community, recognize the extent of our knowledge and present that knowledge to others with that caveat fully disclosed.

When seeking accurate, objective information, one must review sources. The advice of an expert is only useful insofar as the expert’s field applies. Many of us in the future will only be experts in being generally competent, entering into fields like consulting at first with relatively limited experience and being valuable only through our ability to acquire and parse specific knowledge quickly.

This dynamic is no different from daily discussion. Conversations with other intelligent students from a diverse background are exceedingly valuable, but only if you are talking about reality. You do not have to read everything about a topic, but know the extent of what you read and preface with that when talking with friends, especially about controversial issues. Ask the same courtesy of your peers.

And if you do not care about the potential harm for yourself, consider the direct harm of spreading unqualified, misleading blips for others. The central benefit of non-anonymized discussion is that it allows for the building of reputation and accountability, as Lexi Boccuzzi outlined in her recent column. If you spread misinformation to someone and they disseminate this further, they could potentially get called out and criticized. By not fact checking your information, you are directly harming the reputation of those who trust you.

The solution is simple: outline the limitations of your knowledge or recognize you do not know enough about a topic to be sharing information about it at all. While you do not have to be an expert to talk about something as complex as Israel-Palestine conflicts, think about the effect on others and recognize your obligation of truth to those around you. Consider whether you know enough about a topic to be sharing details — in my case, especially when those details concern my economics midterm.

SPENCER GIBBS is a College and Engineering junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics and systems engineering from Tallahassee, Fla. His email is