It is impossible to turn be an active internet user and not have heard the term Fake News, in the past months it has become a catchphrase for the US president, and it has echoed around all the corners of the media, from the newspaper to the newsfeed. What we have to realize is that we are living in a very special moment in time, where technology has become widespread, being more accessible than ever, but the knowledge and skills of how to use it are not there. Contrary to popular belief, it is not unique to the time of the internet, as it happened before with the spread of yellow journalism. At that time, the number of people that could read was rising, but the critical reading skills were not as widespread, leading to a public that was easily misguided by scandalous notes and news.
Today’s public (the internet users) are bombarded by thousands of news in many formats, the thing is, we are not very good at recognizing an altered video or photograph, at sourcing the material, or at looking beyond the first impression, but we are extremely good at sharing it on social media with hundreds, if not thousands, of new readers that in turn, might do the same. Very interesting research is being made by Sam Wineburg at Stanford University, where as part of the SHEG program, they focus on sourcing material. The results were troubling. Students were unable to recognized paid or sponsored content (even when it was explicitly disclosed), and they couldn’t differentiate the political bias of Social Messages.
So as good Digital Citizens it is our duty to polish our critical thinking and digital reading skills, and teach them to all around us. Here are some easy things to keep in mind, and some ideas to incorporate in your life and/or classroom:
- Start with yourself. Think before you share: Social media runs on human emotions, but those emotions can fuel the spreading of Fake News. It is common practice to many of us to automatically share or like things that pull a reaction out of us, but it is less common for us to cross reference said content, or think about the impact it could have on the world or on people. As we become a society mediated by technology and social media, it becomes more important for us to think before we share, so follow these simple steps: (1) Read. (2) Wait for your initial reaction to subside. (3) Question the content: is it true? Confront it with other sources. (4) Question your motive: is it helpful? What will I, and my followers, gain by sharing this? (5) Break with the idea that you have to be the person to share it first.
- Make a lesson out of it: You might think it is hard to tackle what seems like a huge issue in your classroom, while at the same time covering your content, but with a little bit of creativity it is possible. In an article by NPR news, it shows how teachers are doing some very creative, and interactive, lessons around Fake News. Diane Morey and her ninth-graders at Danvers High School in Danvers, Mass. is using her history class to teach her kids about the fake news taking on the topic of Marie Antoinette and her (in)famous quote “Let them eat cake”, which funny enough: it’s fake news!
“The media of the day didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or a partisan website” More says. “But they did have pamphlets”. By showing her class several sources like the cartoon pamphlets from the French Revolution and Antoinette’s letters, they draw conclusions and have a conversation about sourcing. “Once you expose it to them” she says, “it’s like a game for them, ´Hey, I am not sure I can trust this´”
You might think that your subject does not lend itself to covering fake news, but you might be surprised by the creativity of some teachers. To read the other examples check out the NPR article, or use some of these Lesson Plans: PBS, Edutopia and Common Sense Ed:
- Teach those around you: We all know that person that is always sharing sensational or unreliable news, it might be a friend, a co-worker, a parent or a family member, a kid. It is good practice to engage with those people and let them know the content is fake or misleading. In today’s political climate, it might be sensitive not to engage with the content, especially if the other person is someone you care about, so instead, engage with the person. Try to explain why the content they share are “fake” and help them distinguish between the too. When it comes to kids and teens, building critical thinking skills becomes critical, as their lives will become more digitalized. Common Sense is a great place to get help and resources for you to work with your kids in becoming Digital Citizens, here is a great article on how to talk to your kids about distinguishing fake news and paid content.