Teaching Students to Spot Fake News​

In this era of “alternative facts” and deliberately faked news, it is vital that we teach children how to discern fact from fiction when using the internet. A recent study published by Stanford demonstrated that while students are savvy with using social media, they are decidedly not discerning when confronted with information they find online. Among other things, students were not able to distinguish ads from news articles, nor were they able to figure out where information was coming from. For instance, they might find an article online and not take the time to find out who is behind the web site where they found it. Students in a class in San Mateo, CA were duped by a web site that was actually a front for the restaurant and hotel industry lobby. Many schools are noting the issue and beginning to introduce media literacy classes. But in the mean time, here are some things you can do to teach your child to spot fake news.


1. Show them examples of well-crafted headlines vs. clickbait.

For instance, tell them to watch for headlines that try to ensnare them by appealing to their emotions: “You Won’t Believe What This Woman Did to Her Children!” Headlines like this give no actual information. The point of a headline in a traditional news source will give you a succinct summary of what is contained in the article: “Foreigners Trapped in U.S. by New Policy.”


2. Help them learn how to spot ads

. This goes for Facebook and Twitter as well as Google searches. Show them that paid content on Facebook says “sponsored” in small grey type in the upper left corner. Google shows you that something is an ad with a small green box that says “ad” placed to the left of the url. It also delivers ads first in the search results. Twitter alerts you by putting a grey arrow and the word “promoted” in small grey type in the lower left corner of a tweet. Beyond that, it can get trickier. Newspapers and magazines print stories that are called “native advertising,” content that is paid for and is hard to distinguish from news when online. Students who find out news on Instagram may not realize the person delivering the news was paid by someone to say it. As the saying goes, question everything.


3. Build their powers of investigation.

When your child is researching a topic for a paper, encourage them to learn about the web site where they found their information. Show them to check the “about” page. From there, it might take a quick Google search to find out if the people behind the web site are connected to any groups that might make their information less credible.


4. Before assuming news is real, consider the source.

If your child found a news article on a site outside the mainstream media, have them check credible news sources to see if those organizations are reporting it. News sources on both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of stirring up sensationalized news, but when something is real news, you can count on all the major media outlets (New York Times, CNN, Fox News, etc.) covering it. Of course, we could get into political slants here and which outlets are more conservative or liberal, and the fact that the mainstream media will often ignore important stories (take Standing Rock for example) but at the basic level, this kind of fact-checking is important.


5. Watch for all caps and spelling and grammar errors in the story and the headline.

This is a classic sign of fake or low quality news.


6. Become critical of the sources used in articles.

Who is the story quoting? Who was featured or left out in the reporting of the article? Were people from both sides of the story quoted or, at the very least, was an attempt made to contact them?


7. Improve your own media literacy.

Think about the sources you read and what you’re drawn to click on in your interaction with online news. Notice where you can become more critical and discerning.​