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 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 :  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…”

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