How do you get your news?
Do you enjoy a cup of coffee over your morning paper?
Follow a few blogs and news sources that you check daily?
Click on links and posts on various social media sites?
The amount, quality, and way we consume information has changed drastically in the last couple of decades. As a society, our willingness to pay for unbiased, high-quality journalism has waned, and free, flashy, clickbait-y news has gained prevalence – especially on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. With the way our feeds are curated, much of this news tends to confirm our own point of view (confirmation bias), which makes it more likely that we will believe it. Beyond being biased, many of these articles are flat-out completely fabricated, and yet get shared, re-tweeted and referenced again and again.
Because of this, it is more important than ever to think critically about the news we consume and not take everything at face value. As teachers (and especially librarians!) we have always known the importance of teaching students to critically evaluate information sources for accuracy and bias, but recent research suggests that students are not very good at doing this.
The article highlights a Stanford study that assessed students’ ability to assess information sources. The results were described as “bleak.” Here are a couple of highlights, but the entire article is worth a read.
- Most middle school students can’t tell native ads from articles.
- Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.
- Many high school students couldn’t tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook.
- Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.
- Most Stanford students couldn’t identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.
What can we do?
We need to be deliberate about teaching students information and media literacy skills. It needs to become second nature for us and our students to think critically about the information we consume – even more so when it fits in perfectly with our own narrative.
At the high school, many English classes have begun using the CRAAP test as a process to evaluate information. This walks students through a process of determining:
Some of the most crucial questions in relation to recent fake news articles include: Is the information supported by evidence? Where does the information come from? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
These questions about information can be reinforced any time students are gathering information – whether for a formal research paper, a personal interest, in social studies, science, or any other discipline. We teach students about reliable sources of information, including library databases, but the truth is that all of us curate our news from many sources – including social media – where fake news abounds. Instead of shying away from those types of sources, we need to teach students how to also critically evaluate information that comes at them through social media.
At the younger levels, students can learn about advertising and how companies use techniques to persuade them to buy certain products. When middle school students are researching, we need to explicitly teach about native advertising and how it deliberately is made to look like legitimate news articles.
The library media specialist in your building is a phenomenal resource for this (and is already teaching these skills when possible!). Not sure where to start in your classroom? Use her to find resources, lessons, and activities or partner with her on a mini-lesson during a research unit.
The article states that the solution “is to teach students to read like fact checkers.” We teach them to think like historians or scientists, and while gathering information, they must also read like fact checkers. Being an informed citizen is part of engaging in democracy and it is our responsibility as educators to help our students in that task.