Growing up, it was hard to miss the tabloids at the grocery store that proved the existence of aliens and featured pictures of couples who gave birth to three-headed children. And when The Onion was first published in the late 1980s, it was entertaining to read its satirical articles about the latest political figures and their follies.
But these days, there are increasing numbers of news organizations that intentionally blend facts with fiction for less-than-benign motives. As dubious sources of information become increasingly common, educators have a greater responsibility to help students discern what’s true and what’s attempting to form biases through half-truths and misinformation.
Fortunately, there are also growing numbers of resources, such as the News Literacy Project, that help students identify fabrications in the media. But these organizations are not enough. As students go through their days only one click away from a fake news story, they also need certain skills and a mindset to avoid traps set by news organizations that are vying to influence public opinions.
For starters, educators need to model and teach a healthy amount of skepticism. Students should first learn to judge if the story sounds plausible and if it is consistent with different news stories or what they know to be true from other contexts. It’s also helpful to teach students how to look for and then analyze the sources for stories covered in the news. Most legitimate articles will name their sources of information, and teachers may require students to practice documenting these sources. Finally, students should verify their information from multiple organizations. Any truly newsworthy story will be covered by various news agencies, each with their own biases for how the facts are covered.
Once students are provided with the skill set for analyzing information, they can usually sniff out fake news. And that’s increasingly important as schools foster engaged global citizens who will make informed decisions—ones that should be based on the most accurate information available.