on teaching teachers about fake news… [edited]

I had an opportunity to teach my teachers about fake news.

“I’m not a librarian. What should I be teaching my kids about fake news?”

Let me tell you. It. Is. Hard.

My plan was to do about 15 minutes of background information about fake news, a 30-minute activity where teachers tried to analyze web content, then 15 minutes of discussion.

The 15 minutes of background went so-so. We got through just 1 of the 5 parts of the activity I had planned. The discussion that took place between the teachers ended up saving the day and truly helped me understand how to better approach teaching students about source evaluation in a fake news world.

Click here to view slideshow

Click here to go to our faculty meeting breakout session Fake News Libguide

Thoughts for future consideration:

  • The x-axis is almost always going to be the basic starting point for “point of view” or “bias.”
  • The labels “factual” and “sensational” didn’t work for some of the working groups so they changed the labels used. The process of developing the labels is a HUGE part of of the source evaluation process. This is where a lot of critical thinking and analysis are happening so don’t short circuit the process!
    • Perhaps “independently verified” and “unsupported assertion/claim” might work better on the y-axis?
  • In some contexts (science studies come to mind) other axes might be necessary.
  • Placement on the the axes is not so much about a binary process of, “use it if it is above the line, but not if it is below the line…” as much as helping students understand, “This article is from the owner of the Deepwater Horizon. I can use the information in my research and in my project, but I will need to put that information into an appropriate context and the context is…”
  • It is hard to impossible to make decisions about the “quality” of the information in a piece on a topic if you only look at one or two sources. In an world where information has been democratized, we need to engage with more sources to have any hope of being able to triangulate the information we find into “knowledge.”




One great point of discussion that came up in our discussion was, “Why can’t we just find unbiased sources to direct kids to?” and/or where do we find “good quality, unbiased sources?”

One teacher pointed out that our sources have always been biased–that the history textbooks of (some of) our youth were widely accepted, but presented a definite orientation/bias.

In an information universe that has been highly democratized by disruptive technologies, we are now able to see video, hear the voices, and read the lives of countless groups of people that in an earlier time had no meaningful voice.

The disruptive technologies that make that possible, however, also mean that the tasks of vetting, evaluating, and contextualizing information have shifted from writers, publishers, editors, and librarians to the end users of information. It’s a new world!


Sometimes it really does feel like building “knowledge” from our information is a real burden. It. Is. Hard.

When we really think about it, though, what can feel like a “burden” is, in many very meaningful ways, the ultimate “privilege.”

Edited 1/20/2017:

My  teachers are AMAZING! On Wednesday afternoon we had breakout meetings during our scheduled faculty meeting time. On Thursday, I got to hang out with a class as they did a modified version of the activity. How cool is that?!?!? I work in such a cool place!!!

I love the fact that this teacher, Lyssa, challenged students to develop their own method to make their thinking and analysis of the article visible. In my mind, a foundational part of becoming information/media literate is knowing what axes you need to have in your head as you read, and what labels you place on each of those axes.

I would love to see science, math, social studies, arts, etc. teachers coaching their students through the, “What axes do we need for this research?” and “What labels do we need for this axis?” process.





on color in media…

Try as I might, my mind lies.

When I see black and white photos I think, “ancient history” and when I see color photos I think, “current events.” My intellectual side lies to other human beings and I say words indicating that I have a clear understanding of history, but my mind actually files black and white images into the “long ago” file so WWII images end up in the same heap as “Ancient Rome” in my brain. I know that’s not how it’s supposed to work, but that’s what happens.

Artist Marina Amaral has colorized black and white historical photos and the effect on the mind is rather jarring in the best possible way.

Lewis Thornton Powell was an American citizen who attempted to assassinate U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward on April 14, 1865. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Click here to go see Marina Amaral’s amazing work!

Now, I know that there are principles of physics that allow me to sit in a heavy airplane that flies, but in my mind it’s really magic… But that’s probably an issue to tackle on another day…

when the reasoning underpinning a piece is truly bullsh*t…

The LA Times recently published two letters to the editor in response to a piece that was, apparently, about the Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. I did not read the original piece, but I didn’t need to.

Note the reasoning. I am betting that you will see variations on it when someone inevitably proposes a registry for Muslim-Americans…

Steve Hawe argues in his letter:

  1. Japanese-Americans were “helped” or “kept safe” by being put behind barbed wire.
  2. There are so many of them that it was necessary for efficiency’s sake.
  3. “Staying out of the way and not causing complications”  was the “job” assigned to Japanese-Americans.

Dick Venn argues that:

4. Japanese-Americans were actually fortunate because America was super nice and awesome to its own CITIZENS and did not slaughter Japanese-Americans like the Japanese slaughtered Filipinos in their captured lands. [I’m totally serious that is his reasoning… Totally ignoring the fact that MOST OF THEM WERE AMERICAN CITIZENS. I guess he assumes that if your eyes are slanty you just cannot possibly be a real American, but he didn’t explicitly say so, so that’s just an inference on my part.]

You can read the full letters via the LA Times



on how to use social media…

Dear People of the Interwebs,

This would appear to be a really wonderful way to use social media. Please refrain, however, from using your social media feeds as substitutes for accessing well curated content from a variety of journalistically respectable sources from across the political spectrum! More on that later, but for now just revel in the niceness of using social media like this and the goodness of using social media to not be mean to other human beings on the planet…

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You gotta watch this video…

If the video is weirdly sized, try it here

kids can’t tell fake news, but why are we surprised? | updated: 11/28/2016

People have been all fluttering about upset at a study out of Stanford that found that kids’ ability to evaluate sources as “dismaying” and “bleak” and a “threat to democracy.”

Frankly, why is anyone even surprised at all?

Let’s face it. Source literacy in today’s information ecosystems is incredibly hard and media literacy isn’t something most teachers have a lot of comfort with so I don’t think that it is getting taught widely in most classrooms. In fact, I’d venture that it pretty likely that it is barely being addressed at all in most classrooms.  So why would we expect kids to be able to evaluate sources effectively?

This stuff is even harder now because, well, fake news is coming from real sources.

What do we teach kids besides, “All your tools are broken, kid.”

Think I’m exaggerating? Read the tweet stream that follows. The actual live stream is now flooded with people trolling each other, and calling each other “cuck” or “uniformed tools” so do with it what you will.

Here is a thread that came my way via Clive Thompson from Wired.

In a world where real news organizations end up publishing fake news that has been tweeted out by the PEOTUS then makes its way into mainstream sources like Reuters, how is a 14-year old human being supposed to know that is reliable and what is fake?

What do we teach kids about evaluating sources besides, “You know what, kid? I don’t know what the heck to tell you. All your tools are broken. I’m so sorry that my generation has left you with this steaming pile of excrement…”

Updated and Edited, November 28, 2016: 

Read on about the scope of our media literacy problem below:

“…Some of his Trump stories are true, some are highly slanted and others are totally false, like one this summer reporting that “the Mexican government announced they will close their borders to Americans in the event that Donald Trump is elected President of the United States.” Data compiled by Buzzfeed showed that the story was the third most-trafficked fake story on Facebook from May to July.”

“…The most dangerous intellectual spectre today seems not to be lack of information but the absence of a common information sphere in which to share it across boundaries of belief.”

“…On a social network like Facebook, three factors influence the extent to which we see cross-cutting news. First, who our friends are and what news stories they share; second, among all the news stories shared by friends, which ones are displayed by the newsfeed algorithm; and third, which of the displayed news stories we actually click on. If the second factor is the primary driver of the echo chamber, then Facebook deserves all blame. In contrary, if the first or third factor is responsible for the echo chamber, then we have created our own echo chambers.”

“…I’m not worried about the future of our nation based on the election results.  I’m worried about the future of our nation because we are incapable and unwilling to check for facts, especially when they conveniently fit and affirm our already-held beliefs.

“…’The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction,’ Coler says.

He was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it. He wrote one fake story for NationalReport.net about how customers in Colorado marijuana shops were using food stamps to buy pot.

‘What that turned into was a state representative in the House in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something that had just never happened,’ Coler says…”

“…A majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media, and 18% do so often, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In 2012, based on a slightly different question, 49% of U.S. adults reported seeing news on social media.1…”

“… Donald Trump is a political candidate unlike any other. But while his tactics are novel within the world of politics, June Deery, media studies professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, believes they should be very familiar to those who watch reality TV…”

Read on About Tools/Frameworks/Strategies/etc. for Addressing the Issue:

“… As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy…”

“…EscapeYourBubble is a Chrome extension that wants to try and help everyone understand each other a bit more. Once installed, it asks who you want to understand better — Democrats or Republicans. Based on that choice, it then adds contrasting posts to your news feed…”

“…Stelter then provided the three “buckets” that the sites fall in — hoax sites with fake news, hyper-partisan sites with misleading info, and “hybrids” with a mix of fact and fiction…”

Get on a computer and go to : clickclickclick.click  and get a demonstration of just how much data you give away about your online reading and browsing habits just by visiting a site.

“…To demonstrate how reality may differ for different Facebook users, The Wall Street Journal created two feeds, one “blue” and the other “red.” If a source appears in the red feed, a majority of the articles shared from the source were classified as “very conservatively aligned” in a large 2015 Facebook study. For the blue feed, a majority of each source’s articles aligned “very liberal.” These aren’t intended to resemble actual individual news feeds. Instead, they are rare side-by-side looks at real conversations from different perspectives…”

“… I collaborated with NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting to develop this script describing who is tracking you throughout your day.  The video shows how your digital trail can be assembled into a pretty complete picture of who you are.  Some of the script may seem pretty far fetched, but every example was vetted by yours truly and occurs every day (in the US)…”

Direct link to: Hot on Your Trail: Privacy, Your Data, and Who Has Access to It via Youtube

“Authored by leading journalists from the BBC, Storyful, ABC, Digital First Media and other verification experts, the Verification Handbook is a groundbreaking new resource for journalists and aid providers. It provides the tools, techniques and step-by-step guidelines for how to deal with user-generated content (UGC) during emergencies.”

“How I traced the falsity of one internet meme, and what that teaches us about how an algorithm might do it”

Perhaps the very best analysis of media literacy and information literacy education challenges I’ve seen so far are from Australian doctoral student Kay Oddone. Her entire Linking Learning blog is a great read, but you can read three posts which focus on information and critical literacy below:

“… previously content had to pass through extensive editorial processes prior to work being published, there is no such on the internet. Therefore we see just as much accurate as inaccurate information being posted online; a horrifying example being footage posted on Twitter, which was circulated as from the Brussells terror attack, but which was later revealed as footage from an earlier bombing in Belarus.

Disturbingly, it’s not just the accuracy of assignments that are at risk by this spread of misinformation; at the height of the Ebola crisis, according to this article by the Washington Post, 84 people had self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon in just 90 days; and almost all of them include information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong.

We need to develop skills in what Howard Rheingold calls ‘Crap’ Detection – knowledge of how to find and verify accurate, useful information – or basic information literacy for the internet age…”

“… The ability to publish to a global audience is within the reach of anyone with a device and an internet connection. Identifying the signal in the noise is a challenge for anyone, and is a skill that must be taught. Fortunately there are many tools and tricks that make this easier…”

“… The Verification Handbook is a really interesting read (and free to download) which shares a range of tools and strategies for how journalists verify information, using real case studies.
Of course, students who are researching won’t necessarily go to the lengths that journalists go to to identify the veracity of information they find online, but it is good be aware of strategies which are easy to apply if they aren’t sure of the accuracy of information.

Three ways identified in the handbook to verify the accuracy of information on social media include:

Provenance – is this the original piece of content?
Source – Who uploaded the content?
Date – when was the content created?

Finding this information requires the use of a combination of tools…”

Worth Reading: After Election, Some Americans Seek News from the Other Side…

Worth reading!

After election, some Americans seek news from the other side – CSMonitor.com

BRIDGING DIVIDES Many Americans, especially on the left, are trying to wean themselves off fake news and social-media feeds designed to show them what they want to see.

By Harry Bruinius, Staff writer NOVEMBER 19, 2016

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NEW YORK — Like many of those who voted for Hillary Clinton, Steve Hudson was pretty stunned to watch as Donald Trump swept through the supposed “firewall” states presumed to align with the Democratic nominee, going on to win the United States presidency.

Feeling blindsided, he questioned what may have been the myopic perspectives of his “news bubble.” He concluded that he needed a wider range of reliable reporting to get a more accurate understanding of what was happening in the country.

“My trust in my news sources has been shaken,” says Mr. Hudson, a Chicago resident and self-employed advertising planner, who says he’s mostly relied on The New York Times in the past – a source that shares his center-left perspective. “I’m reacting to the the overall confidence my news sources expressed in Hillary’s potential for winning, all the talk about the death of the Republican Party, the focus on Trump’s many inflammatory statements and personal failings.”…


“Will Simpson, a marketing strategist in Los Angeles, who relies on sources such as The New York Times, Quartz, and CNN, said he was shocked by how wrong so many “legitimate publishers” got the election. “It demonstrated to me that those of us that consider ourselves ‘informed’ and ‘educated’ are susceptible to the same vicious echo chamber cycles that we accuse so many people across party and socioeconomic lines of being ‘dumb’ enough to fall victim to.”

Building ‘webs of trust’

“What I’ve seen is a lot of people compiling lists of fake news sources, and actively asking their friends on social media not to share news from those sources,” Professor Sinnreich says, noting that some developers have created software to identify fake news sites.

“What little solace and tactical benefit there is to be found is in building webs of trust,” he adds, “communities of shared trust where there’s a tacit agreement only to share verifiable information.”

For Simpson, staying informed “requires a certain voluntary exercise.” And now he’s more than willing to pay for a wider range of sources, and he’s looking to organizations like Al Jazeera, the BBC, and even The Drudge Report to stay informed on a range of opinions.