News: fake, real, and everything in between. A roadmap for the rest of us.

In November 2016, The Stanford History Education Group published the results of their one and a half year study to determine the civic online reasoning skills (ability to reason about the information on the Internet) of 7,804 students across 12 states. Here is what they found:

Our “digital natives” may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped….
(See the report here).

One national conversation that has taken place since our presidential election has largely been focused around what is or isn’t news, what sources we can trust, and how to tell the difference.  The Students in Stanford’s study are not the only ones who have trouble distinguishing between sources. Adults have trouble too, and our time spent on facebook seems to contribute largely to the dissemination of fake news.

Dean Miller writes in his article, Why we Need News Literacy Now:

 Even when it was fact-checked to death, students could see in real time on Facebook that Democrats didn’t seem to care that Trump never told People Magazine that Republicans are the dumbest group of voters. Nor did Trump voters seem to care that Ford wasn’t actually cutting jobs to move small-car production lines Mexico. Paired with the news literacy course’s use of the Project Implicit website to learn their own biases, students could then monitor their own impulses to let fact-checking bounce off their confirmation bias like pea-gravel off a mud flap.

        So, what is fake news? Simply put, it seeks to deliberately misinform by passing hoaxes, propaganda, or misinformation off as real news. Fake news creators use social media as a way to spread their fake stories and garner more clicks. A lot of fake news isn’t news at all. It would be better described as fiction, satire, or a lie.

        How can you tell? Check out this article by factcheck.org. It tells you to check the URL, read the “about us” section of the site, read the article below the headline, and how to keep alert to tactics such as writing scintillating headlines in all caps and emotional manipulation.

        A lot has been said recently about bias in the media.  The best journalism does its very best to not take a stand one way or the other on a news issue, but seeks to get all sides of the story and report equally on both sides of the issue.  There don’t seem to be too many authoritative sources to determine the bias of a site or a news organization.  The wikipedia article on media bias presents a decent explanation and further resources to explore.
 Also, check out NewsBiasExplored, a project by students at the University of Michigan.

        When in doubt, look at the nonpartisan fact checking sites listed below to see what they have to say about a news story in question.

Fact Checking Sites:

FactCheck.org

“A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, this nonpartisan and nonprofit site monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. The site’s goal is to “apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.”

OpenSecrets.org

“Opensecrets.org is the most comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis available anywhere. And for other organizations and news media, the Center’s exclusive data powers their online features tracking money in politics – counting cash to make change. The OpenSecrets Blog features newsbreaking original reporting about money-in-politics, including the sort of investigative work that won the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2013 award for Public Service in Online Journalism.”

PolitiFact.com

“PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida, as is PunditFact, a site devoted to fact-checking pundits. The PolitiFact state sites are run by news organizations that have partnered with the Times. The state sites and PunditFact follow the same principles as the national site. PolitiFact staffers research statements and rate their accuracy on the Truth-O-Meter, from True to False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get the lowest rating, Pants on Fire.

ProCon.org

“ProCon.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit nonpartisan public charity, provides professionally-researched pro, con, and related information on more than 50 controversial issues from gun control and death penalty to illegal immigration and alternative energy. Using the fair, FREE, and unbiased resources at ProCon.org, millions of people each year learn new facts, think critically about both sides of important issues, and strengthen their minds and opinions.”

Snopes.com

Snopes.com is an independent entity owned by its operators, Barbara and David Mikkelson. Their only funding is from advertising.  This website attempts to debunk and validate urban legends, Internet rumors and other stories of uncertain origin.

        We hope we have given some helpful resources in order to navigate the rich digital world of information.  We have not covered even one tenth of what is out there. Fake news ties into such fascinating topics as the history of journalism and yellow journalism. We hope we have inspired you to check out a new site or try to read news stories with an eye for the subtext.

        Here is one last do-able action point. Before you share a story on facebook, check its accuracy. If a friend posts fake news, let them know.  It may be uncomfortable at first, but in the end, we all benefit if we can agree on reality, even if we can’t always agree on what to do about it.
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Infographic from Harvard Library’s Research Guide: Fake News, Misinformation, and Propaganda
ultimate-critical-thinking-worksheet

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