Did you know that in the last US election, “fake news” outperformed mainstream news? I was shocked to learn that by going to the right sites and “messing” with the true news, I can 1. fill a candidate’s mouth with totally different words; 2. change his facial expressions; and 3. totally change a piece of media making it almost indecipherable from the original. People spread false reports for commercial or malicious reasons, or even just for fun. So how are we to know that the articles we are viewing are the truth? And even more, how are we to encourage our students to care about finding the truth?
First, what is fake news? It can include such things as:
- False information posted on a website to mimic real news.
- Satirical websites being taken seriously.
- Native advertising, which is advertising disguised as “news” articles.
- Slanted or biased news. It could speak truth, but omit critical information.
How can we check to find out whether our news is accurate or not?
As was mentioned in the embedded video, check the source sites. People will often believe sites even though they state clearly that they are fake news.
- Read the “about us” in a site.
- Note the domain name.
- Consult the experts.
Learn to do a “Reverse Google Image Search”–this is a basic skill for all students. Just right click on an image, hit “copy image address”, then go to the original site where the image was found.
“Satirical websites” and memes are often forwarded as truth. It is so important to check the source.
“Native advertising” camouflages ads by making them look like real news. This allows them to misrepresent scientific studies, for example. Students can actually phone the organization to ask for their scientific results!
We need to realize, also, that our interests will drive what media content we will see on the internet. You may have noticed this in a Facebook site, for example. The Wall Street Journal created Blue Feed, Red Feed to illustrate how Facebook specifically shows what viewers want to see and engage with.
There is a great site to use in response to the problems of satirical or slanted news media: “Media Bias/Fact Check“. This site will list media sources and rate them for you according to their bias: left bias, left-centre bias, least biased, right-centre bias, right bias, pro-science, conspiracy-pseudoscience, questionable sources, and satire. It will show where the media involved would fall on a scale of extreme left to extreme right, expresses whether the reporting tends to be factual or not, and gives a link to the “about page”. Unfortunately, it is an American site and did not include the “The Beaverton” in its listing of satirical sites.
A fun way to teach students about spotting real or fake news is to use the “Fact-itious” website . If you are working with several students together, you can use “Two Truths and a Lie”–finding 3 stories and then getting the group to assess which two are true and which one isn’t. This gives opportunity to encourage students to read articles beyond the headlines.
Resources for teaching students to evaluate media:
- Attend Pippa Davies’ webinar “How to be Research Savvy” on February 6th at 3:00 p.m. at this link: https://onlineschool.zoom.us/j/556887929
- Excellent list of resources: “Dissecting Fake News: Media Literacy in the Post-Truth Era” – Sample Resources
- The Critical Thinking Cheatsheet
- Have students look up “availability heuristic”, “filter bubbles” and “algorithmic feeds”.
- Have students study “Jestin Coler” (“Fake News King” of USA) or “Veles” (a city in Macedonia famous for writers of fake news articles).
- Students can take courses, such as the Reality Check program, through MediaSmarts, a Canadian site which offers free lessons, videos, and tips for students to learn wise use of the media.
Contents and resources for this article were inspired by the Cinematheque workshop ‘Dissecting Fake News’ ( http://thecinematheque.ca/education/media-literacy/ ), delivered by Liz Schulze at the 2017 PSA Superconference.