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3 Ways to Help Students Distinguish Real from Fake News

Dictionary.com has added the following definition:

fake news [feyk nooz, nyooz]

1. false news stories, often of a sensational nature, created to be widely shared or distributed for the purpose of generating revenue, or promoting or discrediting a public figure, political movement, company etc.
It’s impossible to avoid clickbait and fake news on social media.

2. a parody that presents current events or other news topics for humorous effect in an obviously satirical imitation of journalism.
The website publishes fake news that is hilarious and surprisingly insightful.

3. Sometimes Facetious. (used as a conversational tactic to dispute or discredit information that is perceived as hostile or unflattering).
The senator insisted that recent polls forecasting an election loss were just fake news.

Fake news stories took social media sites like Facebook and Twitter by storm in the months leading up to the United States presidential election. According to an analysis of the final three months of the presidential election, the top performing fake news sites generated more engagement on Facebook than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, or NBC News.

A Stanford research study showed that when shown a real news story next to a sponsored fake news story, 82% of middle school students believed the fake news story was factual. The report states, “overall young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.” Researchers were astounded by the number of students that could not effectively evaluate the credibility of the information they were presented with.

Combined with the fact that by age 18, 88% of young adults regularly get their news from social media, we should be encouraging our students to use critical thinking skills to distinguish the real from the fake.  After criticism, Facebook announced they are going to start fact checking, labeling, and burying fake news stories and hoaxes in the News Feed.  Trusted-News.com  said

It’s 2018 and the lines between all three are blurred more by the day. Even to a trained eye, some sites require a double-take or a close look at the finer details to tell if you’re really on the website you expected to be on.

So they released a Chrome extension you can install on your chrome browser. And in 2019, Microsoft’s Edge mobile browser has started flagging fake news sites as part of its latest update for iOS and Android. Its fake news extension is also available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. 

But what if you’re not using these extensions or plug-ins? How are you able to tell a real news story from a fake one? Better yet, how do you teach your students to do the same? 

3 Ways to Help Students Distinguish Real from Fake News

1. Get news from multiple sources

Getting information from multiple sources helps to verify that the information presented is in fact credible. Obtaining the information from a credible news source is also helpful. A great way to facilitate this is to have students research a news topic and provide multiple sources. This will help familiarize them with what real news stories are, and how to better determine a fake news story.

2. Encourage lateral reading of websites

By using an indirect and creative approach of clicking through to links within a news story, students will learn the type of news site they are finding the information. Does the article link to credible websites that support what is discussed in the article, or does it link to irrelevant websites or detract from what was originally read?

3. Teach your students that Google search results aren’t necessarily based on validity

While it may seem that Google search results are presented by authoritativeness or reliability, this is not always the case. There are many different factors that help determine a results ranking, such as keywords used and site traffic.

You can teach your students to dig deeper than the first search result when validating news to ensure that the article they are reading contains real news. This Education Week article suggests students work like fact checkers and scroll to the bottom of the results to help make an informed decision of where to click first.

One last thing ….

While it may take more critical reading skills on all our parts to distinguish a real news story from a fake one, we can become more engaged citizens in the process by getting news from multiple sources.

In a hurry? The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook by onthemedia.org created this infographic to keep handy to help tell the real news from the fake.

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