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How to Spot Fake News

Graphic: How to spot fake news.

Do you know how to tell "fake news" from real news? Some CCA teachers are helping students work out the facts for themselves.

Fake news has been a buzzword in recent years, and for a good reason. False stories posing as real news can sway public opinion, influencing elections and public policies. In this digital age, information spreads rapidly, reaching many people, whether that information is fact-based or not. Spotting fake news has become a vital skill for all students to learn. With teacher and parent help, students can learn how to differentiate factual news articles from fake news stories.

Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) Teachers Are Helping Students Spot Fake News

At Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), teachers are helping students differentiate between real and fake news. They help students vet the information they find online. A decade ago, teachers had to show students how to tell the difference between biased and unbiased information, or reliable and unreliable sources. 

Today, with so much information available at once, fact-checking often comes second. Students have to learn to use reliable fact-checking sources, such as Politifact, to double-check claims. Teachers explain how misleading information can have a significant impact on public perceptions, illustrating how important it is to make sure news is credible. 

How Are Fake News Stories Spreading?

Telling the difference between real and fake news is not always easy. Even the most tech-savvy students struggle. According to a Stanford University Graduate School of Education study, students frequently cannot recognize sponsored content and political bias on social media. They had trouble distinguishing advertisements and news articles, as well as figuring out sources of information.

While students have little trouble identifying the most obvious false information, they struggle to sort the more subtle examples. Students have to learn how to ask the right questions to determine fact from fiction. While false information and rumors have always been an issue, today’s technology has expanded the reach of fake news. It’s a lot more widespread today than it was in the past — 67% of Americans believe fake news causes a lot of confusion, and only 26% of Americans feel very confident in their ability to recognize fake news.

False or biased information is easier to stumble upon than it used to be. Learning to differentiate between fake news and reliable information has become a necessary skill for everyone in the age of the internet. Educators everywhere have to prioritize teaching students to understand that not everything they see online will be true.

Graphic: 5 ways to spot fake news.

5 Ways to Spot Fake News

A few strategies can help students find credible, fact-based information in the midst of widespread fake news. Students should use critical thinking and research skills as they find information online. Here are five ways to spot fake news on the internet.

1. Trace the Source of Online Pictures and Posts

The first step is to trace the source of the post or picture in question. A student might find a news article reposted onto their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media site feed. When judging credibility, they should follow posts back to their original sources.

Students need to know how to engage in a critical evaluation of online information. For instance, when a student comes across a picture, they should see if they can learn more about it, looking for credits, sources or captions. Fake news sites are unlikely to provide clear sources for their information and images. If the student cannot trace the picture to anywhere else, the source might not be credible.

Credible websites, on the other hand, provide easy-to-access sources. A student should be able to find where a site is getting its facts, figures and other information. Source-tracing exercises illustrate how fake and credible news sources differ.

2. Evaluate the Credibility of News Sites

Learning to determine news site credibility is also a vital skill. Students need to recognize key indicators of credibility. For instance, students should look for “.edu,” “.gov” and “.org” sites before “.com” sites. They should also be wary of “.co” sites, which contain company-sponsored content. Company-sponsored content might be biased — someone trying to sell something may not tell the whole truth. 

Students should also seek site information, investigating the site’s sponsorship, mission, history and contact information. Students should look for real, credited authors listed on articles. Students should be wary of sites with a lot of capitalized words and numerous pop-up ads. Sites that try to grab attention with catchy or capitalized headings, as well as sites with a lot of ads, are likely more interested in gathering web traffic than spreading accurate information.

3. Check for a Recent Article Date

Another important factor is the article’s date. Even reliable sources can present outdated information. Finding the most recent sources ensures the information is up-to-date and accurate. Facts, figures, statistics and study findings change over the years. Recent sources are more likely to be relevant and factual. Students should consider how old, outdated information might affect their perceptions and ability to understand real-world events. 

4. Evaluate the Accuracy of Sources

A high-quality, credible article will often contain supporting sources. Students should check out the sources listed or linked within the articles they read, making sure those sources are also up-to-date and credible. If an author got their information from questionable sources, the information might not be accurate. For that reason, even a well-sourced article may not be the best source of information. It’s important to evaluate listed sources rather than just making sure they’re present.

5. Check for Biases

Students should always make sure their sources of information are as bias-free as possible. To some extent, biases are unavoidable. However, an obvious, extreme level of bias can lead to inaccurate or incomplete information. Some of the most prevalent biases include religious or political affiliations, as well as sponsorships. Students should also pay attention to their own biases, which might affect what they consider truthful. People tend to ignore information that conflicts with their preconceived ideas. Students should always try to read from an objective point of view.

Learning to Evaluate News Is Crucial for Civic Engagement

Everyone should learn how to identify false information. Fake news, combined with social media’s distribution powers, can influence elections and laws. This has wide-scale, long-term implications on communities and entire countries. If a democracy’s citizens struggle to tell fact from fiction, candidates can lie their way into office.

CCA teachers highlight the political effects of fake news. For example, American Government teachers discuss identifying fake news as they talk about the first amendment. They explain how an educated citizenry is an important part of a democracy. Students and their parents can use the News Literacy Project to learn more about news credibility.

Graphic: CCA Empowers Students to Evaluate Fake News.

CCA Empowers Students to Evaluate Fake News

Because fake news is so influential, learning about credibility should be a priority in any classroom. Students have to understand how to evaluate the information they see online critically. They need to know how to differentiate biased, unsupported claims from credible information.

CCA teachers and administrators give students the tools to identify fake news. This helps students formulate fact-based thoughts and opinions, creating independent and intelligent future voters. Learn more about CCA’s mission to help students prepare for academic and professional success.

Author

Commonwealth Charter Academy

Published

December 21st, 2021

Category

Learning Lab

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