Today’s tweens and teens do not consume the same news diet. Newspaper readership is down, as are network news ratings. Many students aren’t home for the evening news due to jobs and school activities. Gone are the days of watching a story about a presidential scandal or a peanut butter recall, and discussing the issues with a trusted adult in the home.
Additionally, multiple polls show that the top three news sources for people under 22 are Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Often, those quick headlines or 140 character tweets that get attention aren’t even real. Many are outdated, parody, or “fake news.”
Sadly, it’s not just tweens and teens swept up in the unreality; many adults are having trouble navigating these waters.
In 2010, the rapper P. Diddy started a Twitter rumor that LeBron James signed with the Knicks. People believed it; therefore P. Diddy issued an apology.
People have believed so many fake news stories stating Justin Bieber is dead that he took to Twitter in both 2010 and in 2014 to verify that he is indeed still among us. Some people were still unconvinced. Perhaps that is why he made various video appearances shortly after each “I am still alive” tweet he posted.
Fast forward to 2016. A fake news site article went viral on Facebook stating that Pope Francis publically endorsed Donald Trump. People believed it. I have Facebook friends who said they shared it without even reading it simply based on the headline.
As educators, the time is NOW for us to guide students of all ages through this uncharted territory. There are several fairly simple ways to evaluate news.
#1. Do you see poor grammar, misspellings, outdated web design, and unprofessional looking photos? Professional news sources avoid these issues. Often, when someone points out a misspelling or grammar issue, they fix it as soon as possible.
#2. Is there exaggeration in the headline? “You Will NOT Believe What (insert name) Did to Earn Votes! It is SHOCKING!” If it says you cannot believe it, well, odds are you shouldn’t. This is most-likely click bait. Some sites are driven financially by how many hits they get. Your click just made a fake news reporter happy. Did you share it? They are now overjoyed because you are lining their pocketbooks.
#3. Do they cite sources? Who did they interview? Did they conduct sound research? The news is probably not reliable if you cannot see clear answers to these questions.
#4. Is there a byline? As in, who actually wrote the article? Can you find this person online? Are they real? (By the way, I am real. My name is Michelle Turner. I teach Broadcast Journalism at Washington High School in Washington, MO.)
#5. Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while truth is still putting on its shoes.” How fitting for today. It is simply too easy for anyone to create a website and publish whatever they desire. Ask yourself a few questions before hitting that share or retweet button. Is this a reputable news source you have trusted in the past? Do they have a history of being known for delivering the news?
#6. With that said, reputable news sources tend to own their own domain. Yes, it is important to check the website’s URL. Is it a website you have heard of before? Is it suspicious? Perhaps it mimics a reputable news site, but the .com is followed with .co .lo or other letters you are not familiar with.
#7. If it sounds fishy or fake, do your research! There are several sources for fact checking: snopes.com and factcheck.org are both known for debunking fake news.
#8. Is there an “about” or “contact” area of the website? Look for one. There should be a way to contact reporters for the site. There also should be information about the publication included.
#9. Are other news sites reporting this story? Do not just trust one news source. It’s important to get news from a variety of sources.
#10. Last, but not least, do not share something without making sure it is current and reliable. Teachers and students alike can create a ripple effect and calm the media waters by not spreading false or outdated information. We can also kindly let others know when we see they have shared fake or outdated news.
On that note, The Golden Girls actress Rue McClanahan died in 2010. Can we please stop posting on Facebook that she has recently died? The sharing of her passing happened so often in 2015 she was a trending topic on social media. Just the other night, one of my Facebook friends claimed that, “2017’s First Victim is Blanche” and posted an article about Rue’s death. She took it down when I politely pointed out she died seven years ago.
Simply put, we are constantly bombarded with information in today’s society. Separating fact from fiction can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. People of all ages can learn how to conduct simple fact checks to become better-informed citizens. It is our responsibility, as educators, to help students of all ages evaluate news sources.