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Fact. Fiction. Truth. Lies. News. Opinion.

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The media is under attack. Fake news is everywhere. But they can’t fool us. It’s easy to spot inaccuracies in online news stories, right?

Apparently not.

A recent study by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students, between January 2015 and June 2016, in 12 US states on their ability to assess information sources. What they found was, “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

Bleak.

So, how do you tell what is fake news?

You could try the new tool Slate has created for internet users to identify, debunk, and combat the proliferation of bogus stories. It’s a Chrome browser extension called This Is Fake. It gives you the option to report stories as fake in your Facebook news feed. It is not clear what happens after you do though, and I have yet to see a warning about a story being fake, only the option to make the claim.

You could wait for Facebook or Google to start fact-checking information for you. Mark Zuckerberg kind of alludes to a plan in this letter.

You could hope that enough people like this Syrian refugee sue Facebook and force them to get fake news under control.

Or you could use this checklist from NPR

  • Read the “About Us” section. Most sites will have a lot of information about the news outlet, the company that runs it, members of leadership, and the mission and ethics statement behind an organization.
  • Look at the quotes in a story. Most publications have multiple sources in each story who are professionals and have expertise in the fields they talk about.
  • Look at who said them. Are they a reputable source with a title that you can verify through a quick Google search?
  • Check the comments. If a lot of these comments call out the article for being fake or misleading, it probably is.
  • Reverse image search. If the image is appearing on a lot of stories about many different topics, there’s a good chance it’s not actually an image of what it says it was on the first story.

Students have long been instructed to use checklists to verify the accuracy of information, especially for research. There is a place for checklists, as long as they are current and relevant. As information formats change, checklists need to change as well. What works for articles in newspapers or periodicals will not work for online news.

And accuracy is not only important to students. There is much to gain from the internet, and it is available to young and old, educated and uninformed. It is up to all of us to share the truth and to expose the lies. As Wynne Davis from NPR suggests, “if you see your friends sharing blatantly fake news, be a friend and kindly tell them it’s not real. Don’t shy away from these conversations even if they might be uncomfortable. As said, everyone has to help fix the fake news problem.”

or…you could always go to the library

Libraries provide access to trustworthy information sources. According to this Guardian article, libraries are stepping up those efforts in light of current attacks on information access. But this is not new territory for libraries. The American Library Association made a similar statement in 1987 against government restrictions, misinformation, and disinformation.

Discussion Questions…

  • Do you believe that checklists, like the one above from NPR, are helpful in identifying fake news or inaccuracies? Do you think they are necessary?
  • Do you believe it is helpful, or antagonizing, to point out inaccurate news when you see it being shared?
  • Do you believe that social media sites and search engines should be responsible for removing or flagging inaccuracies that appear on their sites?