What Fake News Media Outlets Don’t Want You to Know (Shocking!)

At a time when people, including children, get their information about the world from the internet, it is necessary to teach them how to use it.

Although fake news is not a new concept, it has become a hot topic with our increasing dependence on the internet for information. While traditionally people have sourced news from trusted journalists and media outlets, a survey by the Pew Research Center shows that today 62% of adults get their news from social media. This means it is now easier than ever to spread misinformation. The rise of clickbait culture has allowed fake media outlets to report fake or scandalised stories with catchy titles and thumbnails in the hopes of more views, clicks and re-shares. 

“With so much deceptive, deceiving and sensationalised content out there, it can be hard to know who or what to trust.”

The internet has enabled a new way to share information, one that is not subject to strict editorial regulations or standards. With so much deceptive, deceiving and sensationalised content out there, it can be hard to know who or what to trust. Digital literacy is defined by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as “the ability to define, access, manage, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies”. In particular, evaluating sources and differentiating between trustworthy information and fake news is a critical skill in our digitally driven world. 

Yet, data from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority shows that Australian students’ computer literacy skills have not improved in the past three years. This includes digital literacy skills such as evaluating and presenting data using technology. In fact, the report showed that in 2017 only 53% of Year 6s and 54% of Year 10s were classed as ‘proficient’.

But fake news isn’t just a problem for primary and secondary students. Research shows that university students also struggle to evaluate the legitimacy of news sources. In his study ‘‘How college students evaluate and share “fake news” stories’, researcher Chris Leeder asked college students to distinguish between fake news and real news and answer a survey about their behaviours. In total, twelve news stories were presented to participants, six real and six fake. Headlines included topics such as ‘Woman gets life in prison for murder witnessed by parrot’ (real), ‘Harvard study proves Apple slows down old iPhones to sell millions of new models’ (fake) and ‘Fukushima to dump 770,000 tons of deadly nuclear waste into Pacific Ocean’ (fake). 

Students correctly identified 64.29% of fake news and 60.58% of real news, though the lowest performing story was accurately identified by only 46% of participants. Concerningly, the research showed another worrying trend: participants’ willingness to share a story was unrelated to the trustworthiness and accuracy of identifications. A 2016 Pew Study Center report states that 23% of adults surveyed say they have shared a fake news story, knowingly or not. With these attitudes, it is not hard to see why fake news continue to spread. 

It is widely agreed that digital literacy is important, not only inside the classroom but in our everyday lives. So how can we fix the system to ensure students at every level consume media critically?

“At a time when people, including children, get their information about the world from the internet, it is necessary to teach them how to use it.”

Joseph P. Larkin, a former Master’s student at the State University of New York, thinks change should begin in the classroom. At a time when people, including children, get their information about the world from the internet, it is necessary to teach them how to use it. Students may encounter fake news when completing homework, researching a project or doing an assignment. Hence, it is the school’s responsibility to teach them how to navigate the web critically. ‘Students are seemingly always using technology to communicate with friends, find humorous videos, and learn about the world,’ he argues. ‘[Y]et they are rarely receiving instruction about what the responsibilities that come with being a part of an online learning culture are.’

In his thesis, Larkin outlines five thorough lesson plans designed to teach students how to detect fake news. Throughout these, children and teens alike can learn about the different genres of fake news and how to detect them. They learn how to differentiate satire, clickbait and bias from outright lies as well as the different structures and purposes of fake news articles. 

Amongst the detection methods are the Google method (using Google to cross check information), the Fact Checking method (using websites established for fact checking) and the Analysis method (using critical thinking skills such as looking at sources and identifying bias). All in all, the learning plans are aimed at building students’ digital literacy skills. 

If you have already graduated high school, many universities have free workshops that teach you how to gather and evaluate information for your assignments. In addition, there are many free resources on the internet to improve your digital literacy and fake news identification skills.

“We may not realise it but the media is a significant power in our society, we have seen how fake news can skew political discourse and set an agenda.”

To stop the spread of fake news, it is also important to stop sharing without verifying. Sharing an article you know is not true may seem harmless, but spreading misinformation and giving attention to false articles only gives clickbait media outlets what they want. We may not realise it but the media is a significant power in our society, we have seen how fake news can skew political discourse and set an agenda. Research shows 70% of Americans feel fake news has shaken their confidence in government institution, and more Americans are concerned about made up news than terrorism, illegal immigration, racism and sexism. 

Print newspaper’s days are numbered, and long gone are the days of looking up information in a book. In today’s world, students turn to the internet, whether it be for entertainment, questions or homework help. As we continue to move towards an increasingly digital world, it is necessary to equip students of all ages with the digital literacy skills required to thrive. Interpreting and analysing information is key to any degree and an important part of being an educated citizenship. If we don’t teach kids to evaluate the media they consume, the next generation could spell the end of trustworthy journalism as we know it.

Sol is currently studying a Bachelor of Philosophy majoring in Economics  at the University of Western Australia.

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