Fighting Fake News Requires Teaching Kids to Identify It

A rolled up newspaper with the headline "fake news" on it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The recent election cycle taught us a lot about America. Among the things we learned was that “fake news” is a plague upon society, one that many of us are scrambling to figure out how to stop.

Fake news refers to unreliable sources that are shared on the Internet due to people assuming that they’re true. This could be an unverified tweet or photo, an article from a biased “source” like Breitbart, or advertisements passed off as news stories.

There are people on the Internet deliberately trying to mislead us. But the problem is less that these things exist, and more that people are incapable of distinguishing them from actual news.

A recent study completed by Stanford researchers found that the core problem is that students are not being taught how to distinguish between good and bad sources. Middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even college students have trouble doing this. It’s something that they need to be taught.

But before we blame teachers, let’s sit back and realize that they probably don’t have these skills either. Anybody can have an audience on the Internet, and while that can be a very powerful tool for activism, it can also be very dangerous. The public education system hasn’t taught people how to distinguish between good and bad sources because we haven’t really had this problem before.

Breitbart and fake Twitter accounts did not exist twenty years ago. In the old days, people got their news from reliable sources such as newspapers, magazines, and TV news.

Nobody has been able to keep up with the ways in which information is being produced, curated, or disseminated any more. The answer, of course, is to educate everyone. We need to teach more critical thinking and analysis skills to kids, starting in elementary school. This problem is a threat to democracy, and it’s one that will take a great amount of effort to solve.

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