Fake news, social media, and the role educators can play

It is a fundamental role of educators to prepare students intellectually for the world which awaits them outside of the classroom.

This also includes preparing students to be able to navigate the social media environment which dominates the way that young people, in this day and age, access news and information. And part of this is, equipping students with the skills they need in order to identify fake news.

A 2016 report by Sora Park from the News and Media Research center at the University of Canberra showed that 64.9 percent of 18-24 year olds in Australia access their news via online platforms, with only 35.1 percent of them accessing news via traditional media outlets. Moreover, 36.6 percent of smartphone users, 27.3 percent of tablet users and 26 percent of computer users specified that they “Used social media and came across news that way”.

Park’s research also showed that 33 percent of non-mainstream news consumers had shared news with their friends and followers on social media as opposed to only 18.7 percent of consumers of mainstream news.

What this means is that the stories that are most “shareable” in a social media environment are often the ones that people are most likely to come across. It also means that more consumers of non-mainstream news are likely to consider the news that they read to be “shareable”.

Research coming out of the United States shows a similar trend. This month Common Sense Media released the results of their survey of youths in the U.S. which shows that 39 percent of young people get their news from online media, with 36 percent getting their news from family or friends and only 24 percent using traditional media.

Obviously, it would be unfair to assume that all of this shareable online content from non-mainstream media outlets is “fake news”.

It would also be unfair to suggest that no-one should access news via social media, especially since social media has played such a huge part in breaking down the culture of political apathy amongst younger generations.

What is important, however, is that these consumers of online news and shareable news found on social media have the skills to be able to discern what is fake. And because young people are such a large demographic in this style of news consumption, education professionals have a huge part to play in this.

The research Common Sense Media research found that 44 percent of the 853 children surveyed did not feel confident that they could work out whether a news story was fake. Furthermore, 31 percent of the children admitted that they had shared a news story that they later found out was fake.

It is obvious that without a focus on how to distinguish fake news from real news in the curriculum and in the classroom this trend will continue. Children need to be taught the skills of identifying fact from opinion, deciding whether or not a source is reliable, how to question what they read… and of course how to approach the world with a healthy dose of scepticism.

This is a very daunting task for educators. It seems like it would be almost impossible, given it’s not just children and young people who struggle to work out what is and what is not fake news.

The key is to make the lessons interesting and engaging. Breaking down the idea of fake news into its key components, providing lots of examples and having interactive activities all make it very possible for teachers to bring this into the classroom.

For more information on how educators can address fake news in the classroom, feel free to browse the following links.

Fake news lesson plans for the classroom:

These comprehensive lesson plans utilise a variety of techniques to break down the issue of fake news in a way which is interesting, engaging and approachable for students.

Fake news checklist for students:

This checklist uses easy to understand language and provides students with some steps they can follow to reflect on what they read and to discern how skeptical they should be of it.

First draft media:

The first draft media website contains many useful resources for journalists and news consumers to identify misinformation and disinformation. These tools might not be useful in the classroom directly, but they can be used to inspire your own news literacy lessons:

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