With smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, students have 24/7 access to news, information, and opinions—not all of which are well-informed or well-intentioned. In truth, we are flooded with a constant stream of information online, from legitimate news and facts to websites and social media posts taking sides in intense political debates.
In an age when students get the majority of their information from the internet, how can we make sure they know that not everything they find online is reputable? How can we help students become critical thinkers and smart consumers of information who also have empathy for others?
Monitoring students’ internet access in school won’t help them once they leave the classroom. Instead, they need the skills to evaluate online information for themselves. At a time when anyone with a basic understanding of search engine optimization can have his or her personal website appear atop the results of a Google search, students must be able to discern opinion and bias from fact.
Hate speech is content that deliberately tries to divide elements within society. While there are sites on the internet that are blatant about this, most hate speech is subtle and frequently attempts to disguise itself as education, information, or entertainment. This is not restricted to specific websites, but also attitudes that might come up on social media (such as sexist or racist material on Facebook) and in gaming environments.
Students should understand that most people who post information online are looking to convince others of something. Teaching students how to recognize propaganda will empower them to resist these messages.
Online, anyone can pretend to be something they are not. Disguised websites that are malicious or misleading can look professional and authoritative, and writers in chat rooms and blogs might not be who they say they are. Students should be skeptical of any claims until they have confirmed them with a reputable source.