Tackling Fake News in Higher Education

 

Fake News! Alternative Facts! These are phrases we are starting to hear each and every day. Now, more than ever, with the ease and access of using the internet, we are being bombarded with news and information that isn’t true. A recent survey conducted by Hunt Allcot and Matthew Gentzkow shows that 62% of US adults get their news from social media. With that number being so high, it is no wonder that people are taking advantage of this by producing fake, shareable content. The hard part is being able to sort through all of that and separate fact from fiction. As educators, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our students to research, analyze and critique information before posting, sharing or commenting. As much as it is the responsibility of news organizations to present the facts and accurate information, it is our responsibility as readers and citizens of the world to do our research and concluding opinion.

As educators, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our students to research, analyze and critique information before posting, sharing or commenting. As much as it is the responsibility of news organizations to present the facts and accurate information, it is our responsibility as readers and citizens of the world to do our research and concluding opinion.

Here are some tools that you can use to help you navigate through the abundance of information and content being thrown your way:

    • Read the website name. While this may seem like a simple concept, you would be surprised how many people don’t actually read the name of the website they are looking at. With a few letters rearranged or changing the .com part, what you thought was a reputable website can easily become a hoax. For example, MSNBC.com is a real news website whereas some hoax websites are MSNBC.co or MSNBC.website. If you are quickly clicking and not paying attention, you may not notice that simple difference. Also if a website is called clickhole.com do you really want to trust that?
    • Fact check the content. Websites like Snopes and Politifact can help you figure out what is fact and what is fiction. While an article may have some information right, it could also have added to that information or exaggerated that information.
    • Search major news networks. Although we may each have our own preferred news organization, it is important to look at other major networks and see what they are saying about the information. This will allow for multiple perspectives on the information. Additionally, if you find an article with information that isn’t found on ANY of the major networks, then it’s most likely not credible.
    • Understand, Practice, and Teach Media Literacy. Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media.” Organizations like the Media Literacy Project and the Center for Media Literacy have great resources for understanding this concept and developing critical thinking skills.
    • Follow this checklist:
      • Do you know who the source is, or was it created by a common or well-known source? Example National Geographic, Discovery, etc.
      • How does it compare to what you already know?
      • Does the information make sense? Do you understand the information?
      • Can you verify that the information agrees with three or more other sources that are also reliable?
      • Have experts in the field been connected to it or authored the information?
      • How current is the information?
      • Does it have a copyright?

(Source: 5 Ways Teachers are Fighting Fake News, NPR.org)

At the end of the day, seeing is not always believing.

While it would be nice to scroll through our timelines and know that we could trust everything we were seeing, that is just not the case.  For years we have known that tabloids such as The Sun, National Enquirer, and Globe have been producing fake and outlandish content. So why are we not approaching social media sites and fake news websites the same way? Yes, it takes a bit more time on our ends, to research, navigate and sort through the information, but it is our responsibility to know what we are saying and sharing before we do.

In education, another “fake news” situation we have to look out for is fake and parody twitter accounts. More and more, college presidents are being impersonated on twitter and parody accounts such as @AcademicsSay, @SAproblems or unofficial class pages are becoming increasingly popular. After the recent election, we have also seen “rogue” and unofficial Twitter accounts such as the @Alt_DeptofED and @AltStateDpt

Practicing the concept of media literacy will help us and our students navigate through these as well. It is important to teach the concept of satire and humor as well, to differentiate that from real, official news and updates.

mw-fc101_news_20161215131112_ns
Websites such as MarketWatch create graphics like this to show the spectrum of media outlets. While these can be slightly biased, it is still a good conversation starter. 

 

How have you been navigating fake news or social media accounts on your campus? Easybib.com has created a useful infographic for educators to share these tips and tricks with their students. What have you been doing to educate yourself and your students? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

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