Discerning Between Real and Fake Information

Newspaper

Fake news has been around a long time. For years we have seen it when we read the tabloids at the supermarket checkout and more recently we have been exposed to it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Fake news actually began in the colonial period when news outlets played with the truth for commercial and political gain. In the 1890’s, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, rival newspaper owners, fought for the attention of their readers by liberally embellishing stories to sell newspapers. This style became known as yellow journalism which is defined as melodrama, romance and hyperbole.

It is not surprising that our students have difficulty discerning between real and fake information with the plethora of information bombarding them from so many sources in today’s media rich world.

Several recent studies show that most children first get their news from families, friends and teachers. This means that children’s news experiences are filtered through adults, who bring their own knowledge, interpretations, and biases to the information they pass on. It is important then that teachers are receiving their news from verified sources and teaching students how to substantiate any news they find.

Even though they trust the news they hear from their parents and teachers, research is showing that they prefer to get it from social media. Students tend to take information at face value and so teaching them to be critical, thoughtful consumers of information is a challenge that's increasing.

Steps:

1. Begin by reading this article from NPR published in Dec 2016. Read how students admit they don't consume news from traditional sources: not from TV networks or newspapers or even the websites of the major papers. The teens interviewed say they get their news largely from the social media on their smartphones.

2. Next read the article called Media Literacy: Five Ways Teachers are Fighting Fake News. There are five great lesson ideas for you to use with students. One of the teachers cited, Scott Bedley, uses a 7 point checklist for his students when they are reading articles on the Internet. 

  • Do you know who the source is, or was it created by a common or well-known source? Example National Geographic, Discovery, etc.

  • How does it compare to what you already know?

  • Does the information make sense? Do you understand the information?

  • Can you verify that the information agrees with three or more other sources that are also reliable?

  • Have experts in the field been connected to it or authored the information?

  • How current is the information?

  • Does it have a copyright?

3. Fortunately there are also fact checkers that are available for you to validate stories you have heard or read. Find a story you have read recently or heard from a friend or student. Use one of the sites below as well as the 7 point checklist above to validate your story. 

  • Snopes.com is a popular fact checker for rumors and stories you might hear or read on the Internet. (Be aware that Snopes may not always be accurate - the site does continuously fact check)

  • Sourcewatch is published by The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) a nonprofit watchdog and advocacy organization and checks for media bias

  • There are also political fact checker sites. 

    • Politifact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times. It won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 election, during which it examined 750 claims. Politifact fact-checks claims by politicians at the federal, state, and local level, as well as political parties, PACs, and advocacy groups. 

    • FactCheck.org launched in 2003 is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The site fact-checks claims made by president, members of Congress, presidential candidates, and other members of the political arena. 

    • Washington Post's Fact Checker blog is run by journalist Glenn Kessler. The site assesses claims made by politicians or political advocacy groups and gives out Pinochios based on its level of accuracy.

4. On the Media from WYNC published a blog post called The Breaking News Consumer's Handbook. In the blog post they published the handy graphic below to cut out and place next to your computer as you are doing research and trying to decipher what is real and fake. There are 11 handy tips to help you quickly determine what is real or fake. If you are not sure, make sure to fact check!

You now have some excellent resources to help you determine the difference between real and fake news. In the next section, you will learn about news bias. 

Move on to Detecting Bias in the News.