The presidential election, the siege on the Capitol and the impeachment process have fueled a blitz of information from news media and social media sources – some fact-based and some wildly inaccurate.
As some outlets try to blur the lines between fiction and reality, differentiating the truth has become more challenging for students. A group of researchers from Stanford University in 2019 noted that 96% of high school seniors they surveyed struggled to understand the legitimacy of sources and news from fake news. Half of them couldn’t even tell that a doctored video shot in Russia was not ballot stuffing in the United States.
From Jan. 25-29, just days after the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, the News Literacy Project along with The E.W. Scripps Company will unveil its second awareness campaign during National News Literacy Week aimed at giving educators and others the tools to fight fake news and the scores of less-than-reputable sources that fan false information.
“In today’s complex information and media ecosystem, the proliferation of rumors, lies and the deliberate spread of misinformation has devastating consequences for our democracy,” said Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson. “At the same time, it’s harder than ever to distinguish verified facts and objective journalism from opinion, propaganda and even total fiction. It is our urgent responsibility – as friends, coworkers, teachers, parents and fellow citizens – to equip ourselves and younger generations with the tools necessary to discern truth from misinformation.”
To that end, Scripps is utilizing its local television stations and getting help from media partners such as the Associated Press, BuzzFeed, National Public Radio and several national newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post to amplify that message through a video it says will help individuals “resolve to be healthier news consumers” and be well-informed.
For educators, the stakes have never been higher. Internet trust tool NewsGuard, which regularly monitors the reputability of internet sites around the world, reports a doubling of those getting information from unreliable sources year over year. The site has deemed that more than 130 websites have released unsubstantiated “facts” about the election alone. That does not include all of the wild social media posts and memes being seen by students.
Even adults are not immune from buying false information. A quarter of them, according to a Pew Research Center study done in 2019, failed to positively identify five statements of facts given to them.
“The corrosive threat of misinformation now permeates every aspect of our civic life,” said Alan C. Miller, founder and CEO of the News Literacy Project. “We’ve seen it surge in the past year around the global pandemic, racial justice protests and during the presidential election. As the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol demonstrated, this contagion of viral rumors and conspiracy theories can have deadly consequences. It’s time to confront this rising tide that threatens our democracy. Together, we must take personal responsibility for the news and other information we consume and spread to assure a future founded on facts.”
Resources for educators
In two weeks, the News Literacy Project will offer a number of learning sessions and tools that educators can use in the fight for facts, including quizzes and tips on its website NewsLiteracyWeek.org. It is also hosting three separate events for those interested:
- A professional development session called NewsLitCamp on Jan. 26 with CNN
- A Twitter chat on Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. for #NewsLiteracyWeek
- A conspiratorial thinking session with its education team on Jan. 27 at 4 p.m.
One tools it is launching in the fight against fake news is NewsLit Nation, which is “an educator network that will support local ambassadors advocating for news literacy to be taught in their local schools.”
Another resource is Checkology, a virtual classroom for educators that the NLP says helps students “identify misinformation easily.” Teachers and students can register on the site for free and connect with each other through the portal. There they can explore lessons and engage in critical thinking and skill building to help provide clarity when they are on social media or viewing other news sources. One super cool feature for registered users is that it can connect educators with journalists for visits to their schools.
The News Literacy Project has a number of other resources available to educators at all grade levels on its website, including lesson plans, posters and activities for children, along with a number of articles and infographics on finding truth amid the sea of fiction on social media such as “Five Types of Misiniformation” and “How to Know What to Trust”.