Today we are going to look at fake news, and ways that educators can help students evaluate the credibility of published content.
First, it is worth noting the degree to which educated people can be duped by fake news. A recent Stanford Graduate School of Education study shows:
..a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet.... Students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from.
Note that people had trouble evaluating content credibility at all educational levels, including students at Stanford University. So we cannot place blame on lack of education. We can, however, use education to combat the trend toward an Orwellian "post-truth" world.
Incidentally, "post-truth" was named as 2016s word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, with the following definition: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The dangers, of course, are most acute when it comes to the integrity of our political system, and at the intersection of public and corporate interest. This inability to judge truth from fiction has implications ranging from an individual to societal level. If "post-truth" is the word of the year, it is a sad commentary on the state of our public discourse. The word of the year should be a wake-up call to educators and concerned citizens everywhere, regardless of political affiliation..
Fortunately, many teachers are answering the call. For those interested in teaching about media awareness and critical thinking, here are a few resources for lesson plan development:
Michael Lynch, a philosopher who studies technological change, observed that the Internet is “both the world’s best fact-checker and the world’s best bias confirmer—often at the same time.” Never have we had so much information at our fingertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it. At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.
Fake news is no longer a matter of the occasional hoax. There is growing evidence that fake news has the power to shape public opinion and even sway elections. As more Americans get their news online, it is increasingly vital that students know how to verify sources and spot fake news or images, which often appear indistinguishable from a reliable source. This lesson asks students to analyze the consequences of fake news and build the skills needed to question and verify what they view online.
Here's a video of a lecture by Dan Whaley, CEO of Hypothes.is. It's thought-provoking, so give it a watch: