Whether you call it “fake news”, “misinformation” or the more innocuous “spin,” and whether you see this as an entirely new problem or the continuation of an already existing problem (think “War of the Worlds,” “Yellow Journalism” and “Dewey Defeats Truman”), one thing is clear: there is a powerful and pressing need to prepare our youth to make sense of the constant flow of media information that they consume everyday.
As teachers, we need to be aware of how students are consuming their information. Recent studies have shown that 69% of Americans get their news from Facebook, while other research suggests that social media such as Snapchat and Twitter are how millennials are staying up to date with current events. Yet a study from Stanford University suggests that a majority of young Americans cannot accurately identify what content on a web page is news and what is advertising or paid content.
Have we as teachers moved to adjust how we instruct our students to evaluate information as the sources for that information have changed? This isn’t always easy, especially since the trends in social media are fluid and changing. While there is no one silver bullet website that can resolve this issue, many helpful resources exist. Here are a few to help you get started in constructing your curriculum.
5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News
The Stanford History Group: The Stanford History Group is well known to history teachers. Recently, they published an executive summary entitled EVALUATING INFORMATION: THE CORNERSTONE OF CIVIC ONLINE REASONING. It provides a summary of the research they conducted in 2015-16 and includes samples activities geared towards middle and high school students designed to teach students to evaluate articles, comment sections, News on Social media, and website reliability. It is a must read for teachers at any level. The sample activities will have you thinking.
Allsides: Allsides allows readers to evaluate the bias of news articles collected from across online news sites. The site also features the ability for readers rate news sources and individual articles as LEFT or RIGHT leaning. Students can explore the overall ratings of sites or choose articles specifically from one perspective or another. The site is great for making comparisons of topics from several sites.
Politifact: Politifact is the Pulitzer prize winning fact checking website created by the Tampa Bay Times. It uses a “Truth-O-Meter” to rate the accuracy of politicians and parties. During last year’s election, Politifact live tweeted during debates, quickly evaluating statements and statistics. It was a helpful tool for class discussions. The site allows you to search for topics or individual politicians. For each rating, the site offers an explanation of how they arrived at their conclusion.
Factcheck.org is a project from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to evaluating the truthfulness of political statements, Factcheck has a viral spiral feature that addresses internet rumors, a SciCheck page that evaluates scientific claims, and an “Ask Us” feature that allows questions to be submitted for fact checking.
Google Custom Search: If you can’t find the tools that work best for you, you can make your own. Google Custom search allows you to select and curate websites that will be searched by your students. Classes can create a standard for what sites they will use for a lesson or for research assignments and then add them to their custom search if it is determined that they meet the standard. This allows the class to be active and engaged in building a collection of trusted sources. Individual students can construct a search engine for their projects, allowing them to go back and search sources again as their research evolves. Teachers can save a variety of different searches which can be shared with students or embedded in websites.
It should be noted that Snopes.com is missing from the list above. The site has been evaluating online news, stories, and urban legends since the 1990’s. I omitted it not because it lacks any value but because while it is useful, it is so compelling that when I take students there they can sometimes get lost down the rabbit hole.
However you are preparing your students, one thing is clear — it is critical that we, as educators, consider how our students are accessing the news and information and how we can help them actively process all that is pushed to them through social media throughout the day.