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3 Ways to Help Students Distinguish Real from Fake News

Fake news stories seem to have taken social media sites like Facebook and Twitter by storm in the past couple 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.

Study: Most Students Cannot Distinguish Fake and Real News

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. Slate released a Chrome extension you can download to your computer, which flags fake news stories with a red banner over the preview page. But, without that plug-in, or until Facebook rolls out that feature to all of it’s users, 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?

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. 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.

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 created this infographic to keep handy to help tell the real news from the fake.

New Course Offering: Teaching Empathy to Unite a Divided World: Identifying Fake News

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