Information-Rich or Poor? Do you know what is real in a world of alternate realities?

Do you know what to believe? On the radio the other day a caller called in to declare that millions of illegal immigrants voted illegally in the election.  The radio host responded quickly to clarify that there was, in fact, no evidence to support that statement, but the caller insisted that it was definitely true.  Then the caller went on to state that they don’t know who to trust anymore because they hear from one place that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but they are not sure that is true because they read an article that said it was not true.  The radio host tried to make a distinction for the caller between what is verifiably true based on evidence, but the caller was still uncertain:  “I just don’t know what to believe anymore.”

Has this happened to you yet?  Where you are exposed to a news story and you are not quite sure what to believe?  When information gives you pause, do you look more deeply to find out the source of the article?  

Let’s try this out together.  In my Facebook Timeline, I saw an article someone posted that said that D.C. high school marching bands were boycotting playing at the inauguration. The same day, someone said to me, “Did you hear how the D.C. band are refusing to play at the inauguration?”  I now had two pieces of information that have been presented to me within 24 hours time.  It kind of sounds possible, but the news article came from a partisan website and many of my friends probably live in the same media bubble of information.  So, is this true?  How do we find out?

In going to Snopes.com, where they fact check potential rumors and fake news, I found a Fact Check: Fake News article on this.  According to Snopes.com, the schools did not apply to play, but they are not officially boycotting.  For more information check out the whole article: Did every single school marching band in D.C. just boycott Trump’s inauguration?

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Information-rich AND Information-poor. We certainly live in an information-rich world where we can access information from many sources ranging from: “Alexa, tell me today’s news,” and “Hey, Siri…what’s the weather,” or satellite radio news from around the world or 24-7 CNN news coverage, to moment-by-moment coverage on Twitter or personalized news streams in our Facebook feeds and YouTube channels.  Despite being information-rich, we can end up being information-poor if we are unable to decipher point-of-view, bias, or propaganda vs. verifiable, research-supported information.

So what does this mean for educating our students?  

How do we help them to be critical analysists of information?  

The first resource I’d direct you to would be the Stanford History Group, who conducted a study of civic online reasoning from January 2015-June 2016, where they administered 56 tasks to students across 12 states, collecting more than 7,800 student responses from middle school, high school, and college students.  Despite our students growing up digitally, the researchers found that the students had difficulty determining the differences between sponsored content and a news article and the students often would accept the information presented without verifying its source.  To get a better sense of the tasks and results, please review this link to their executive summary of their results.

Below is a summary of tasks they had the students complete, which is outlined in the executive summary.  Taking a look at the list below:

How would your students do?

Middle School

  1. News on Twitter:  Students consider tweets and determine which is the most trustworthy
  2. Article Analysis:  Students read a sponsored post and explain why it might not be reliable
  3. Comment Section:  Students examine a post from a newspaper comment section and explain whether they would use it in a research report
  4. News Search:  Students distinguish between a news article and an opinion column
  5. Home Page Analysis:  Students identify advertisements on a news website.

High School

  1. Argument Analysis:  Students compare and evaluate two posts from a newspaper’s comment section
  2. News on Facebook:  Students identify the blue checkmark that distinguishes a verified Facebook account from a fake one.
  3. Facebook Argument:  Students consider the relative strength of evidence that two users present in a Facebook exchange.
  4. Evaluating Evidence:  Students decide whether to trust a photograph posted on a photo-sharing website.
  5. Comparing Articles:  Students determine whether a news story or a sponsored post is more reliable.

College

  1. Article Evaluation:  In an open web search, students decide if a website can be trusted.
  2. Research a Claim:  Students search online to verify a claim about a controversial topic.
  3. Website Reliability:  Students determine whether a partisan site is trustworthy.
  4. Social Media Video:  Students watch an online video and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Claims on Social Media:  Students read a tweet and explain why it might or might not be a useful source of information.

Next Steps:  How do we teach civic online reasoning?

  • This CNN article:  Raising Media-Savvy Kids in an Era of Fake News offers some other strategies:
    • Look for unusual URLs, including those that end with “lo” or “.com.co”
    • Look for signs of low-quality writing, such as all caps, or bold claims with no sources
    • Look for sensationalist images
    • Check out a site’s “About Us” section
    • See if mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news
    • Check your emotions.  Fake news strive for extreme reactions.

 

References:

 

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