November 19, 2018

Real or Fake News?

GoGuardian Team
A hand changing blocks from the word "Fake" to "Fact"

Helping students discern fact from fiction has never been more challenging. Here are four tactics to help.

The rise of digital journalism has made information more accessible, but also presented unique challenges. Research is no longer limited to the library; today, kids go online to scour the entirety of the internet. While students now have instant access to learning sources like Encyclopedia Britannica or The New York Times, they also have access to every online hoax, doctored image or conspiracy theory at their fingertips.

Meanwhile, “fake news” stories are being shared at an alarming rate, especially on social media: over half of Americans claim to regularly see fake news on sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Suffice to say, it’s never been more important to model media literacy to students and impart fact-checking skills. By helping children distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake news, parents and teachers can teach kids how to think for themselves, as well as gain a clearer understanding of the world.

Here are some helpful ways to teach kids about real or fake news sources, and give them the tools they need to decipher between the two.

1. Show kids images and videos that have been doctored.

Students often assume everything they see must be real. Yet, technology can be used to alter and manufacture photographs or videos like never before. To help kids understand this concept, teachers and parents can show students phony images to help them realize that seeing isn’t always believing. National Geographic created a fun game to help kids more fully understand the concept of a “fake image,” by showing how computer programs can make animals in photographs appear to do just about anything—including ride motorcycles.

With the power of AI and machine learning, fraudulent videos have also become more sophisticated and realistic than ever before. It’s never been easier to put words in someone else’s mouth. “Deep Fakes” are audio and visual media campaigns that can do just that. Filmmaker Jordan Peele recently created a video to show how easy it is manufacture media with Deep Fakes. By exposing students to such materials, they’ll start to learn not to trust sources just because they claim to be legitimate.

2. Play games that teach students how to identify reputable journalism.

NewsFeed Defenders, created by iCivics, is a challenging online game that introduces players to basic standards of journalism. By playing, students win points by spotting dubious posts that try to sneak in through hidden ads, viral deception, and false reporting.

NewsFeed Defenders and similar games inspire civic learning, and encourage kids to engage with the content they read online by asking relevant questions like, “Who published this content?” and, “What sources does the writer use to substantiate their argument?”

When it comes to identifying reputable journalism, teach kids to look for context. Who’s sharing it with you and for what reason? Political organizations, companies, and entertainment sites all have different reasons for sharing information.

3. Review the differences between biased and unbiased sources.

We’ve all heard the term, “check your sources.” Indeed, not all sources are created equal. Help students understand differences between biased and unbiased sources by giving a primer on the difference between the editorial and news sides of an organization.

Educators can prompt students to analyze the bias of sources by asking them questions like:

  • Am I looking at the news or someone’s opinion?
  • What is the context of the story?
  • Who is sharing the story and what do they have to gain by doing so?

Political groups, news platforms, and private companies all share news in different ways and for various reasons. Have an open discussion about why certain stories may be shared on specific forums and not others. This discussion may also present an excellent opportunity for teachers to introduce the role censorship and propaganda play in shaping stories and news, historically and at present.

4. Model media literacy with fact-checking.

Music, TV, video games, magazines, and other media have a strong influence on our youth and can even shape the way they conceive of the world. To be conscious media consumers, kids need to develop skills and habits to analyze the media they engage with critically.

It’s vital that kids learn how to fact-check the articles, news stories or social posts kids see. To see if a source is verified, students can research the publication or author, check the link authority, look for exaggerated vocabulary or hyperbolic claims, learn about angle and tone, and analyze images for photoshopping.

To get an even better hold on this, educators and parents can teach kids to cut and paste a headline into fact-checking sites like Snopes. Kids can also learn how to spot false information by using sites like All About Explorers: Christopher Columbus. On this site, there are false claims (like the statement that Columbus was born in 1951) that are both humorous and spur a more significant conversation.

Ultimately, education starts with knowledge and being able to decipher fact from fiction. Media Literacy is a crucial subject to teach in our increasingly digitized world. Only when students can analyze and critique the information they’re exposed to will they become learners as opposed to mere consumers.