People are hungry for headline-breaking news, juicy unheard details, and gobs of the latest information. Especially if it aligns with their beliefs, prejudices or preferences. It’s even more satisfying when it’s plastered across the virtual walls of social media. How can we train up the next generation to sift through the bombardment of news to decipher which stories are true and which are false?


Definition of terms

First, let’s define our terms. Fake news is any type of news that is blatantly false and was composed to mislead readers. It can be presented as an article, video, podcast, infographic, social media post, etc. Therefore, true news is considered to be any type of news that is factual.

The youth of today live in a culture where the social media realm is just as valuable as face-to-face relationships (although some teens may think the online world is even more important!). Most adults have the ability to declare whether a piece of news is true or false. How can we instruct our students to do the same?

The 4 components to solving the mystery of fake news.

There are 4 key components to teaching the next generation if the news presented in the media ecosystem is true or false. It’s just like being a detective who is solving a crime.


1. Don’t trust everything that you read online

A detective doesn’t trust anyone but his partner. Likewise, you shouldn’t trust everything that you read online except for a few reliable sources.

To help your students grasp this foundational concept, teach them which sites should not be immediately trusted. For example, how many of your students have a Facebook page? Twitter account? Instagram hashtag? Do they always publish the truth? (Just to clarify, that’s a hypothetical question!). However, a research organization through a university or hospital is considered to be reliable.

Here’s some stats to back up point #1. People can discover that a real image has been altered to become a fake image only 60% of the time. Plus, being around other people (physically or virtually) increases your tendency to assume facts are true; people check their facts 30-50% less when in a group.

Remind your students to be like a detective who is hunting for the truth; real-world detectives aren’t easily swayed by false evidence, and you shouldn’t be tempted by fake news either.

2. Investigate the source

A good detective always performs a background check on potential criminals. We should do the same for each piece of news we read.

Ask yourself these two main questions as you read the news:

  1. Is this originally published by a reputable brand, like The New York Times, a news association, or a well-known university? If not, what are the credentials of the author? Does this person hold a phD in the subject, or is it Joe Schmo sharing his two cents on the matter?
  2. When was this originally published? It could be outdated information that has since been revised.


3. Consider cited sources and cross check other sources

Background check complete. Good work! Next a detective would interview family, friends and coworkers of the suspect to get an insight into his/her life. We should do the same for news by considering the cited sources and similar pieces of news.

First, look at the sources. These are found either at the bottom of the article in a list of resources, or as a hyperlink throughout the text. Often the sources will be other articles, videos, or websites that support the information declared in this article. For each source, ask the same two questions listed above in point #2.

Next, crosscheck similar sources. You can enter a quick google search to determine if other articles from reputable sources are discussing the same topics as the present article. If so, the news is likely true. However, if this is the only content on this particular topic, it’s possible that it’s fake news. Continue on to point #4 to finish your detective work!


4. Recognize why it was written

At this point you should have a fairly good idea about if this content is true or false. Assuming that the news is written by a well-known source or a knowledgeable author on the subject, and if other sources state similar information, the content is true. But if you cannot confidently state these details, the article is likely fake news.

I’m sure your students are wondering why someone would publish fake news. There are a variety of reasons, from stirring up chaos or gaining attention, from instilling fear or increasing traffic flow (and thus revenue) to their website, and even just to persuade others to share their opinions.

Be a detective who stops fake news

Each of us can play a role in stopping fake news just like a detective stops the bad guys! First be able to discern what is fake news. After all, you’re a detective! Don’t share fake news. And encourage your friends, especially on social media, to stop believing and sharing the news. Once a detective solves a case, he doesn’t keep it to himself. It’s celebrated with his team and published in the local paper!

Fake news won’t be expiring anytime soon. Technology is advancing and it’s easier than ever to set up a personal blog or business website. Instruct today’s students to decipher between true and false news so they can have greater success in their future!

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