Help students distinguish between fake news and the real thing through actionable tips and modeling common-sense practices.
Over the last 20 years, the methods through which students source news and information have changed greatly. The culture of professional journalists was once marked by the pride they felt through the belief that they conducted thorough research resulting in articles they felt, in a sense, were infallible. Fast forward to today, when the news cycle is filled with fake news, which comprises sites that generate stories based upon a small nugget of truth, or articles that are completely untrue. Rather than employ trained, educated, reputable journalists, certain sites publish work written by novice writers and those for whom writing is simply a lucrative side job. Even within the most respected publications and news sites, there are journalists who fall victim to the mindset of post first, fact check later.
The news regarding student acceptance of fake news is also bleak. A study conducted by Stanford University over the course of 2015-16 found that 70 percent of middle and high school students were unable to discern between sponsored content (paid by advertisers), fake news, and legitimate sources. Help students make discerning choices between reputable sources and fake news.
1. Know the Difference
It is extremely easy to take every post, headline, and article as truth, but students need to realize that there are outlets and authors out there who publish fake stories to further their own causes or agendas. Share these tips with students to help them recognize fake news and find reliable sources of information.
Check the Source
Social media is not a reliable news source. Anyone can post anything at anytime, even if it’s a complete lie. When you find an article or post, look at where the original story lives. Is it hosted on a reputable news outlet site, or is it on a site you’ve never heard of? Does that site have a particular agenda that could influence its interpretation of facts?
Check the Author
Do a quick Google search of the author’s name to find their qualifications and reputation. This could also reveal any biases or conflicts of interest that could influence their writing.
Remember Your Middle School English Class
What is one of the major requirements in any research paper you write in school? Citing your sources in a clear, concise way. True journalists hold themselves to this same basic principle. At the end of a news article, look for a section citing sources, such as scientific studies and census results. These should be reputable sources (think respected research universities and government organizations) that provide facts, and those facts should be the basis of the article itself.
Read Between the Quotation Marks
It’s a good sign when a news article includes quotes, but an article is not automatically credible just because it includes a quote or two. Look at who is being quoted and ask yourself why their quote was included. Are they an expert in the field or topic being discussed, or were they included only because they support the author’s claims? Was the quote used appropriately or taken out of context? If the quote is exceptionally powerful or shocking, consider searching for it to see if the person actually said it. Just like in your own writing assignments, a reputable author will cite where and when the quote was originally said in addition to who said it so its accuracy can be verified.
2. Be Accountable, Take Responsibility
Whether it’s a propaganda-fueled social media post, advertising that resembles editorial, a friend’s shared meme, or news feed suggestion generated from browsing history, students are exposed to immediate stories from a variety of online sources. Teach students to read as many stories as they want, but research each before sharing the information they learn. Though reading fake news from an untrustworthy online publication might seem to be a waste of time, the only respectable way to disagree with someone is to learn about and study them. As long as students recognize fake news as inaccurate and seek out the truth from other sources, their time spent studying erroneous reporting will not be wasted.
3. Stop Spreading Fake News
Remind students to refrain from hitting the share key too quickly when exploring the internet or scrolling through social media feeds. When encountering a story online, don’t simply read the headline and take it as the truth. As in the aforementioned point, conduct research. When seeing fake news shared by family, or friends, politely point out the misinformation and provide research to support this point. Don’t be rude, simply show that the story is false. Tell students to invite the friend or family member to engage in a civilized discussion regarding the true story behind the fabrication.
4. Share True Stories
Teachers who have built class social media pages can encourage students to choose legitimate stories over fake news by posting articles to the page. Leading by example is the most effective method to shift student attention away from fake news. Take this tactic a step further by creating assignments based on articles that are posted to the page. Ask students to review the posted, verified stories and invite them to find other fake news articles that are related to the legitimate post. During the next class, discuss the details that were exaggerated, thereby rendering the fake news stories inaccurate.
As content continues to be generated in accordance with keyword counts and consideration is given to click-through rates, journalists will feel the pressure to abandon the dedication to accuracy that once bound them by honor to the profession. In this fast-paced world of viral news, no publicity is completely bad. Even egregious errors still generate traffic to websites and increase advertiser exposure. During this time of uncertain sources, readers must remain vigilant by researching stories and holding responsible those who spread fake news.