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…”


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

Worth reading!

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

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.

on escapism…

I just finished watching the final two seasons of The Office. It’s been a needed escape from the real world. I know that there are some who may not have liked the finale, but I came to know these characters over nine seasons and it made me happy that they, largely, got their mostly happy endings. Sometimes, what we need in a world that doesn’t seem so very nice, is a reminder that happy endings can happen…

on the face of new media…

This is the face of new media, folks. So what do we teach kids about media literacy?

For the ‘new yellow journalists,’ opportunity comes in clicks and bucks – The Washington Post:

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 2.43.49 PM.png

By Terrence McCoy November 20

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Fewer than 2,000 readers are on his website when Paris Wade, 26, awakens from a nap, reaches for his laptop and thinks he needs to, as he puts it, “feed” his audience. “Man, no one is covering this TPP thing,” he says after seeing an article suggesting that President Obama wants to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership before he leaves office. Wade, a modern-day digital opportunist, sees an opportunity. He begins typing a story.

“CAN’T TRUST OBAMA,” he writes as the headline, then pauses. His audience hates Obama and loves President-elect Donald Trump, and he wants to capture that disgust and cast it as a drama between good and evil. He resumes typing: “Look At Sick Thing He Just Did To STAB Trump In The Back… .”


“news media” vs. “journalism” …

Following the epic failure of media on election coverage, one of the thoughts that has crossed my mind frequently of late is that my job seems to have gotten exponentially harder in the last two weeks.

That’s not really, true.

The real truth is that my job was exponentially hard than I had realized. Confronting the truth of your professional failure is painful, but if you ever hope to get better you need to look at your truth. All of it. Even the ugly parts.

The truth here is that we (everybody, but I’m a school librarian so this is aimed, largely, at that audience) should have been teaching the difference between “news media” and “journalism.”

This piece by Kaitlyn Tiffany via The Verge made the school librarian rounds last week:

In the war on fake news, school librarians have a huge role to play – The Verge

Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Concern about the prevalence of fake or sensationally biased news sources has escalated in the days following the presidential election, with many citing it as a factor (some even the primary cause) of Donald Trump’s win.

“It seems like there are two different types of literacy to talk about here. There’s the academic literacy, which is about looking for the academic sources and peer-reviewed sources that are necessary for your formal education, and then there’s this citizen-training which is more about being savvy about the type of information that you see around you all the time. Is that second type of literacy actually a part of written curricula or do you just have to hope individual librarians consider it important enough to teach?…”

Source: In the war on fake news, school librarians have a huge role to play – The Verge

This stuff is hard for a 14-year old human being to grasp. Think about this. This stuff is hard for adult Americans to grasp.

Our news media and journalism apparatus is broken so kids need to begin to understand what that means.

This fascinating tweet stream came my way via Clive Thompson at Wired. Click on the image of the tweet and read the entire 10-12 tweet stream. Very eye opening.


Or this…

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study – The New York Times

By Sapna Maheshwari


Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Tex., had just about 40 Twitter followers. But his recent tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory — one that Mr. Trump joined in promoting…

Source: How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study – The New York Times

I’m struggling to figure out how to begin approaching this…

I kind of like Brian Stelter’s framework as a starting point.

  • Understand that there are different kinds of media sites:
    • Hoax sites with completely fake news
    • Hyperpartisan sites with misleading info
    • Hybrids with a mix of fact and fiction
  • Understand that sites like the National Review or sources like the Wall Street Journal may be considered to be conservative leaning or Mother Jones or the New York Times on the left, but they adhere to a different set of journalistic standards than other media outlets that are popular amongst voters.

life in a filter bubble – no bueno…

I first recall learning about the concept of the filter bubble in the summer of 2011. My partner in library crimes and misdemeanors at the time, Anna Martino, were middle school librarians in Los Angeles at the time and were attendees to Lab School @ Punahou that summer. Our cohort’s focus was digital ethics and the amazing Doug Kiang talked about Eli Pariser’s filter bubble work one day.

When we returned to school the following fall Anna Martino and I built online privacy and the filter bubble awareness into our middle school library curriculum. We presented a session on our work at the California Association of Independent Schools Southern Regional Meeting in 2012.

While our work was always greeted with nice platitudes and an “Oh, that’s so interesting…” level of acknowledgment, it was always pretty clear that this was “important stuff for kids to know” but that nobody knew how these concepts and ideas fit into their work as science, history, math, whatever… teachers. Nobody was going to carve out time to develop this because they were already behind. “I should have been done with the crusades last Monday…”

I don’t know what discussion is like at other schools around the country, but I know that at the school I work at now, post-election discussions on media-literacy instruction are being taken extremely seriously.

The realization that the enormous volume of information coming our way via our computer, tablet, and phone screens did so little to inform us about the lives of virtually half of the rest of the country and that, in fact, the filter bubble effect seems to have made us LESS well informed about the lives of half of the country has given thinking people a real reason to pause and reflect on what the hell really matters when it comes to a 21st century education.

It’s weird to realize that something you’ve talked about and thought about for for so long has suddenly gone rather mainstream, but it has. In all honesty, I was SHOCKED by the election results. I KNEW that my Facebook news feed was a filter bubble, but I grossly underestimated just how thick the walls of that bubble were. The really hard part, though, is knowing what one can do about it. The nature of online life is that there is a huge amount of data that we give up about ourselves just by being online.

Don’t believe me? Head on over to and see what happens.


What can they do with that data?

Or Blue Feed, Red Feed from the Wall Street Journal…


Here’s to bursting the bubble!

Edited: Maybe there’s hope…


AS AMERICANS INCREASINGLY live their lives online, they risk encountering people they disagree with less than ever. Digital lives are circumscribed by algorithms and social media networks that create separate but homogenous red or blue realities. Filter bubbles are a problem technology didn’t create but certainly seems to exacerbate.

Now, technologists are trying to use software to burst those same bubbles…

Source: Do-Gooder Technologists Are Trying to Burst the Post-Election Filter Bubble | WIRED

why media-literacy matters to a 21st century education…

Why does media-literacy matter? Let’s sample a little of the issue.
If you aren’t familiar with Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk on Beware Online “Filter Bubbles” start here:
  • Media Literacy in a Post Truth World – We are so compelled to believe the worst of one candidate and the best of another, that we are incapable and unwilling to entertain any critical thought. We are more interested in what we believe rather than what is true.
  • What Facebook Did to Media Literacy in America – While our view of what’s transpired in this country in recent months may not be crystal clear, over the past week, many have raised questions about the proliferation of fake news, raising concerns about how inaccurate stories — widely circulated on sites like Facebook — might have influenced voters in the presidential election.
  • – Think you are careful about what data you are giving away about yourself when you browse online? You’re probably giving a lot more away about yourself and your habits than you realize.
  • Red Feed, Blue Feed-An amazing tool from the Wall Street Journal. “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.”
  • Why you should Triple Check before you Share? – Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, explains why you should triple check sources. Particularly useful is explanation of 3 different types of misleading news sources.
  • News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016 – According to this May 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, “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.”