Fake News is a term we are probably familiar with by now, and nods at the greater and growing theme of questioning the validity of information put out by mainstream media and news. “Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016, though looking back now, it seems like that was just the start of the information battle we would experience as a world in the following years.
A phrase used to describe made-up stories or websites that became popular in the mid-2010s has now become a household saying, even used as a joke to tease at times. However, the question of unreliable news is slowly chipping away at the previous understanding that the media produced factual information that the public could trust. So, what even is fake news, how can we spot it, and how can we teach media literacy to help our students combat it while finding sources they can trust?
Disinformation vs. Misinformation
The phrase “fake news” is a quippy way to refer to something that is “disinformation,” or information that is intentionally deceptive and spread with malicious intent. In addition to disinformation, we also battle “misinformation,” which is information with outdated or false information, but not spread with the intent to deceive. Both of these terms represent a growing ecosystem of false news that readers fight against every time they turn on a television or open a social media app. It’s important to also take note that misinformation can become disinformation, such as if someone intentionally spreads something since proven to be false.
The widespread of fake news has created massive doubt in the news. Opinion pieces are often misunderstood or communicated as truth, biases are perceived as “false,” and political divides in media sources have turned away readers or listeners with different beliefs. These factors, among others, have led people to only trust their self-verified sources, which can often be extremely polarizing or damaging.
Bias vs. Fake News
Another important distinction to make in the media is the difference between biased and fake news. Most media sources are biased or slanted in a particular political direction. Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most people have political preferences and like to hear their news from a source that comes from a common ground of belief. If you analyze different news sources and how they present the same stories, you will see that behind their bias or slant, they are covering the same story, only described with different words.
It’s important as readers to know which way different media sources lean so that we can read and listen with a critical and understanding perspective. It’s improbable that media sources will stop writing from their slant, so it becomes our responsibility to recognize, question, diversify, and contextualize what we’re reading to be equipped with a full understanding of events. This doesn’t mean we have to shut out certain news sources but to listen or read them with a critical lens, knowing that bias is usually at play and work.
Teaching Media Literacy as a Critical Skill to Help Combat Fake News
Social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok are becoming more and more popular with children of younger age, and act as a perfect environment for false information to spread during students’ average of 9 hours online per day. One parent recapped a night when her son came to her worried that we were on the verge of a draft for a third world war because of a satirical TikTok video trend with over 1 billion views. Her conclusion was that young people have difficulty telling what’s true on the internet.
With the growing increase in children’s media usage, media literacy is necessary to give students tools to consume and produce media responsibly. According to Media Literacy now, media literacy is a “key 21st-century skill,” and critical to “the health and well-being of America’s children, as well as to their future participation in the civic and economic life of our democracy.”
When a student has media literacy, they can decode the messages given through the media, assess their influence, and then create media thoughtfully (Media Literacy Now). This allows students to spot mis- or disinformation, assess biases, detect toxic messages or growing trends, and fight social issues or incorrect messages responsibly.
Activities to Help Teach Media Literacy
Because media literacy centers on information found online, it’s easy to find and create fun activities that entertain students while helping them understand and strengthen their media literacy.
One activity you can try with your students is to give a list of articles published by a mixture of reliable, biased, misinformative, and disinformative sources. To make things interesting, try to find articles that cover the same topic or issue. After discussing media literacy, bias, and fake news, have students evaluate each source, labeling each source as “reliable,” “biased,” “misinformative,” or “disinformative.” Have students highlight what clues they used to label each source, and discuss their results as a class.
Fake News Red Flags
Another activity is based on a checklist of “fake news” websites red flags. Give students a list of websites, containing a variety of sites that are reliable and misleading. Instruct students to explore each of the websites and go through the “fake news checklist,” checking off if sites contain the following:
- All capitals letters, photoshopped pictures, or unofficial font
- Shiny, colorful pages
- Domains that mirror other popular media sources, but have a “.co” instead of “.com” (fake news sites will often use the credibility of reliable sources, but add “.co” at the end to confuse readers)
- Links or pages that lead to broken webpages
- Outdated stories or expired copyright
- Pop-ups and banner ads surrounding the homepage
- Clickbait or flashing buttons
The Juice is founded on a non-partisan, balanced, and unbiased approach to presenting current events. To remain transparent, you can even check out our “Bias Meter” that measures the political leanings of our different posts through our news aggregation site. This is an amazing tool to learn and show students how our site trends each day based on that day’s stories.