Fighting Fake News in the Classroom

by Lorenzo Burgio

The struggle to tell fact from fiction in the digital age is the battle being fought recently by teachers and professors.

A Stanford University study recently found that students in middle school, high school and college, are bad at verifying the news read online — which is worrisome.

The ability to verify news is something that has to be practiced in the nation’s classrooms, said Professor Sam Wineburg, who produced research for the Stanford study, to NPR.

In the study, Wineburg explained that the concept becomes even more worrisome because “many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally perceptive about what they find there.” This makes young people a major factor, because they are susceptible to believing fake news and more prone to spreading it.

“How do they become prepared to make the choices about what to believe, what to forward, what to post to their friends, when they’ve been given no practice in school?” said Wineburg to NPR.

This idea is becoming even more prominent as the media is constantly being attacked or used for personal agendas, and this is something educators are aware of.

This is a responsibility that is falling more and more into the hands of teachers and professors, because “fewer schools now have librarians, who traditionally taught research skills,” explained The Wall Street Journal.

As Facebook works with the Associated Press and other organizations to ensure fake news is not spread throughout the social media platform, efforts in the classroom can also help tame the spread of fallacies on the Internet.

“Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference,” wrote USA Today.

Encouraging and teaching the ability to sift out fake news in the nation’s classrooms is necessary. This ability is vital to becoming a functioning and involved member of society and can only benefit future voters.

California lawmakers passed a bill in January that requires the state to teach courses that help students between grades seven and 12 distinguish fact from fiction and understand the repercussions of spreading fake news.

The dynamics of these courses are specifically designed to have students combat fake news by knowing proper reporting techniques. They teach students to ask questions such as, “Are other news sites reporting on it? How is the writing? Can I find the people in the story elsewhere online?”

There will also be a special emphasis on using tools such as Snope.com and FactCheck.org to validate all information and to always think twice before sharing information on social media.

These courses should be taught nationwide. In a digital world that is only becoming increasingly technologically based, these are necessary skills that students should be properly educated in, to combat the spread and influence of fake news. It is particularly significant because the young, social media users play such a large role in spreading fallacies because of their familiarity and expertise with social media, and the perceived notion that news shared by them is of the same stature.