Fake News and Media Literacy
Fake News and Media Literacy
PUBLISHED: Thursday, February 23, 2017 by Stephanie McCauley

As instances and accusations of “fake news” reach an all-time high, schools and teachers are looking for ways to educate students in news literacy. The process of finding reliable factual information has grown more complicated recently, both by social media and the “post-truth” political culture that emerged in 2016. In light of these changes, educators are working to make sure students learn how to distinguish fact from fiction.

One recent article from NPR Ed describes how teachers are stepping up to increase students’ media literacy and fight the effects of fake news. Whether through games like “Simon Says” or Skype sessions with experts, students learn to examine sources carefully and determine how the information was gathered. Learning these key skills can help students engage with current and global events in and outside of the classroom.

However, even with these skills in place, mistrust of the news media is growing. According to Emily Bush from Library Journal, even millennials are showing more distrust in mainstream media. Most students she spoke with at several Tennessee schools admitted to gathering their news mostly by word of mouth. Many others reported getting news through social media; unfortunately, these students did not fully understand that news gathered on Facebook and Twitter may not always be reliable (and may reflect previous bias).

So the problem is real: Information gathered passively is not reliable information. But how can teachers go about educating students? Here are just a couple of the growing options:

  • The New York Times offers a lesson plan, “Fake News vs. Real News,” to help students understand how they make assumptions about accuracy and veracity in the media. The lesson also includes a case study students can follow to see exactly how fake news begins and spreads.
  • WNYC’s On The Media posted a handy list of fake news flags that might be useful for students to consider. The list warns against trusting news with headlines in all caps or with unidentified photos. Most fake news articles are designed to make the reader angry, so it’s helpful for students to consider how their emotions might be used to mislead them.
  • School Library Journal is hosting a webcast in March on information literacy; they’ll talk about best practices and managing media bias.

In addition to teachers, librarians may also have to step up to encourage students to develop news literacy. As PBS NewsHour writes, “Real progress in information literacy will require librarians, faculty and administrators working together.” In short, the development of literacy skills in our media-driven climate must be approached from every possible angle. In this way, educators can empower students to be well-informed citizens and future leaders.