How to fight fake news

Here are some media-literacy strategies to help students be mindful about authenticity online

Twenty years ago, it was easier to identify fake news. There were the tabloid papers in the grocery store checkout line and the sensationalized “news” programs that promised inside looks at celebrity lives. Now, between the number of online information sites and the proliferation of social media apps, plus near constant mobile phone use, determining a story’s credibility seems to call for advanced detective skills.

In her edWebinar “Fight Fake News: Media Literacy for Students,” Tiffany Whitehead, school librarian for the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says that’s exactly what we need to teach students. While today’s youth may be aware that not everything on the internet is true, they don’t have the tools to evaluate accuracy and authenticity.

First, Whitehead says educators and students need to use the same definitions for the same terms, such as news literacy and fake news. Otherwise, any conversations could result in miscommunication. For her students, Whitehead uses definitions from the Center for News Literacy. More important than defining the words is how just discussing the definitions can engage students in reflective conversations. This is an opportunity for them to identify what they have seen and read online.

Next, Whitehead teaches her students about the different forms of logic and reasoning inauthentic sources use to appear legitimate. These tactics include:

  • Confirmation bias: only pursuing sources that confirm your own point of view
  • Echo chamber: similar to confirmation bias, discussing news or sources within a group that confirms existing views
  • Circular reasoning: when a piece of information appears to come from multiple sources, but they are really one source citing each other

In addition, she talks about filter bubbles. Whitehead wants students to understand that search engines and apps watch their online activity and filter search results and ads based on perceived preferences. Thus, before students even type in a word, online media is already funneling them the news the media thinks they want to see.

Whitehead doesn’t believe in lecturing students about news literacy. Her lessons include several activities to help them embrace the idea that they can’t just accept what they see. For instance, she has shared television news reports about bloggers profiting from fake news stories, engaged them in activities to evaluate news reports on similar topics, and had them create their own source decks. Most important, she gives them tools they can use outside of her class like fact-checking websites and checklists to determine a website’s, article’s, or author’s credibility.

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