Monday, August 7, 2017

Helping students fight fake news


Fake news is not new. This article from Politico documents the story of a missing child that was reportedly murdered by members of religious community who then drank the child’s blood as part of a Passover celebration. The story spread through the sermons of a Franciscan Monk and eventually led to the arrest, torture and execution of fifteen innocent people.  It happened in 1475.

But somehow, the fake news roller coaster has hit a new high in this era of social media gluttony. Inevitable, perhaps, but an area of concern nonetheless. More and more people get their news from social media which has created a target rich environment for those that what to spread disinformation in order to further their cause.

Buzzfeed reported that a false story that reported Pope Francis was to endorse Donald Trump for president during the 2016 election received almost one million shares, reactions and comments. The story was false, but it quickly spread through social media.

So how can educators play a role in the fight against fake news? Let’s start in the classroom. English Language Arts teachers spend a significant portion of class time teaching students how to identify various literary devices. This easily translates into the discovery of fake news.  For example, hyperbole is an effective literary technique that can be used to create a visual picture for a reader.
It was so cold that each word from his mouth froze in mid air and fell to the ground.

However, when used in a news article or advertising claim, hyperbole is often a clue that something may simply be too wild to be true, such as when the Associated Press published a story that the Trump administration planned to “mobilize over 100,00 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants.”

Teaching the proper use of literary devices, including showing how they can be misused, could have a significant effect on helping students identify fake news. But there are many other techniques that can be used.  Take a look at this video from Common Sense Media Education.


Common Sense Media offers several great resources on how to detect fake news including this video that includes four sites kids can use to “Fact check” what they read online and this creative poster that helps students determine the legitimacy of the site they are viewing.  Older students will benefit from this resource from Ithaca College’s Project Look Sharp. It includes questions for teens to ask both when evaluating sites and well questions to ask when creating media messages.

Teachers have a responsibility to provide students with the skills necessary to identify content of questionable validity. This has been true for years, although when my generation was in school, this was normally related to detecting bias and exaggeration in advertising. This is still common, but today's students need more. Today, we need to give them a set of skills that serve as a “fake news” detector that is in some ways just as important to their digital citizenship as knowledge of the Bills of Rights is to their physical citizenship.

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