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Fake News: A Guide for Students in the 21st Century Classroom

Have you ever been duped by fake news headlines? If so, you’re not alone. Recent (real) news stories have erupted during the last couple of weeks that reveal Internet users are bombarded with fake news every day, and that fake news might even have been a major force in the presidential election.

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 news by David Michalczuk shared via Creative Commons

This is pretty depressing. As someone who spends hours every week doing her best to ensure that only truthful, accurate information leaves the Nomad office, I’m dismayed by the thought of people intentionally trying to pass off fake news as real news. I know, it’s part of the cost of a thriving Information Age, but I still don’t like it.

What’s even more depressing is that most students are unable to tell the difference between real news and fake news. A report from the Stanford History Education Group concluded that students from middle school to college had trouble identifying sponsored content. Many of them didn’t question the validity of an article about financial planning that was written by a bank executive and sponsored by a bank. The majority of high schoolers tested couldn’t tell the difference between a legitimate news story from a Fox News post on Facebook and a faked post made to look like Fox News.

The Stanford History Education Group calls this civic online reasoning—“the ability to judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets, and computers.”

As educators, we might like to think that the children we are charged with educating are responsible consumers of media, that they automatically practice good digital citizenship, but unfortunately, digital natives do not instinctively turn a discerning eye toward the stories they’re reading online. There is a lot of information being dispensed through technology, and our kids are swallowing it whole without stopping to wonder if what they’re consuming has any informational value.

Why is this important? Because being able to distinguish truth from fiction is a vital part of making informed decisions about who to vote for, what college to go to, what career to pursue, what nonprofit group to support, and what stance to take on any issue.

How do we help kids become savvy consumers of digital media in the 21st century classroom? Like this! Teach them these tips (and use them yourself) and discover the difference between being knowledgeable and being tricked.

Look for “sponsored content” labels. If a headline on a website includes the words “sponsored content,” this means a company is paying to have that headline appear. It’s an advertisement, not news.

Read beyond the headline. It can be tempting to react to a teaser headline without fully examining the article itself. Headlines are written to get reactions from readers, and if that reaction is to believe it as truth and share it widely, so much the better for the company who posts the story.

Look for a byline. Who wrote the story? If no name is listed as an author, that’s suspicious. If the person listed as an author has won 12 Pulitzer prizes, worked in companies all around the world, and has served as advisor to four different presidents, dig a little deeper by searching the name online and seeing what comes up. Nothing? Well, that’s a good reason to skip the article.

Look for a cited source. Information comes from somewhere. Articles that spew information without offering links to the sites that information came from could be fake. If there are links, follow those. Are they from trusted news organizations such as NPR, CNN, the Washington Post, or the New York Times? Or do they link to more journalistically shaky articles?

Does the headline encourage you to SHARE, LIKE, BELIEVE, and use lots of exclamation points?!?! Credible news organizations rely on truthful reporting and good writing to get their stories to readers. Fake news relies on capitalized letters and inflammatory statements. Don’t be fooled!!!!   

Check your facts. Use your search bar and search any statements made in the article. Search the supposed news organization’s name. You can also use fact-checking sites such as Snopes.com. If the information is true, other news agencies will be talking about it, and it it’s false, someone will probably have posted a story about that.

Most of all, use common sense and don’t let your emotions drive your sharing decisions. When bad information is shared, it grows into a bigger problem that more people have to work to solve. Be a part of the solution by doing your research.

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