A recent study conducted by Stanford University “shows a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet.” Plain and simple, our students cannot determine fact from fiction when it comes to online content. When conducting research for assignments and projects, it’s important that students learn to separate what is fabricated from what is credible.
Educators should be at the forefront of this “battle” against false information. We must teach our students to be critical of everything they read online and encourage them to take the time to verify what they find. It’s not as hard as it sounds. The following ideas, tips, and resources may help you teach your students how to be informed, discriminating consumers of online media.
Questions to ask when consuming a piece of media:
- Who made this? Did a well-known or common source create it?
- Does it make sense?
- Does the information match with other reliable sources?
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Who paid for it? If you click on it, does someone get paid?
- Are important details left out of the message?
Items that may indicate a piece of media is fake (commonsensemedia.org):
- look for unusual URLs or site names, including those that end with “.co” — these are often trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but they aren’t.
- Look for signs of low quality, such as words in all caps, headlines with glaring grammatical errors, bold claims with no sources, and sensationalist images (women in bikinis are popular clickbait on fake news sites). These are clues that you should be skeptical of the source.
- Check a site’s “About Us” section. Find out who supports the site or who is associated with it. If this information doesn’t exist — and if the site requires that you register before you can learn anything about its backers — you have to wonder why they aren’t being transparent.
- Check Snopes, Wikipedia, and Google before trusting or sharing news that seems too good (or bad) to be true.
- Consider whether other credible, mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news. If they’re not, it doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it does mean you should dig deeper.
- Check your emotions. Clickbait and fake news strive for extreme reactions. If the news you’re reading makes you really angry or super smug, it could be a sign that you’re being played. Check multiple sources before trusting.
Factitious – a game that tests your news sense.
Channel One News – A lesson plan explores the problem of fake news sites, featuring a Channel One News video about the issue.
PBS Newshour – Fake news is making news, and it’s a problem. This lesson gives students media literacy skills they need to navigate the media, including how to spot fake news.
TED-Ed – Damon Brown gives the inside scoop on how the opinions and facts (and sometimes non-facts) make their way into the news and how the smart reader can tell them apart.
ReadWriteThink – Hoax or No Hoax? Strategies for Online Comprehension and Evaluation.
CoolCatTeacher – 3 fast, free lesson plans to fight fake news
Sites With Fake Media (for learning purposes)
The Tree Octopus – An internet hoax created in 1998, the website fabricates information about the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and what you can do to save it. The website is now used to teach students about internet literacy.
All About Explorers – All About Explorers has a series of lessons for elementary age students in which they can learn that just because it is out there for the searching does not mean it is worthwhile.