School Libraries Fight Fake News

Fake news has been all over the real news lately. From Mark Zuckerburg to Pizzagate, fake news is a huge problem, and it’s not going away on its own. According to a recent study from Stanford University, approximately 80 percent of students struggled to evaluate the credibility of an online resource. This is a little disheartening, since this is a huge part of what we teach as school librarians, and it appears we’ve not been very effective. There really isn’t a magic formula or checklist that replaces the critical thinking needed to determine if information is credible.

Based on the recent surge of fake news and the results of the Stanford study, we decided to overhaul our website evaluation lessons by doing the following:

  • Changing website evaluation to resource evaluation. A small shift in perspective expanded our scope to include content like memes, links posted on social media, native advertising, as well as traditional website evaluation.
  • Using worksheets from the Stanford study to assess our students’ online skills to see if there was an area that stood out as especially problematic.
  • Showing students memes and asking them to prove if the meme is true or false.
  • Asking students to show us memes from their social media feeds to see if we can spot fake news while students research to see if we are correct.
  • Making our own memes to show students how easy it is to create and spread content online.
  • Experimenting with different evaluation methods. We gave students the Common Sense Media Website test as an example and asked them to create their own test.
  • Giving students chances to test their resource evaluation methods. We’ve been setting up a laptop with some type of online content displayed. The rules are students can use any resource available to assess the displayed content as credible or fake. The decision is written on a slip of paper and put in a box.  We don’t ask for names, but we use the slips to decide how much time to spend on discussing the resource.
  • We have also decided to gently explore and introduce some political content while teaching fake news. This gives us the chance to reinforce respectful culture and positive discourse while discussing real-world topics. I think some of the political ideas really hit home with students when they find out information they have seen (and believed) on social media is actually fake news.

Fake news has always been around, but now it feels more threatening. As a school librarian, I feel like I should almost be the first line of defense against the spread of fake news. Perhaps the most recent change we’ve made to our resource evaluation program will become the most effective. We’ve asked students to politely speak up about fake news if they see it or hear it, and if they aren’t sure, research it, and if they still aren’t sure ask a librarian for help. How are you addressing fake news, and have you made any changes to your program?

Completed worksheet from the Stanford study

Completed worksheet from the Stanford study

Author: Mica Johnson

I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Technology

8 replies

  1. -At my school, fourth grade students all read Frindle, a novel in which a boy works to create a new word and have it entered into the dictionary.
    -Post-truth is the newest word in Oxford dictionaries.
    -Children often ask questions about the veracity of rumors, including those involving politics and even killer clowns,
    -AASL has made changes to the resource evaluation program.
    One thing has segued into another for an important, effective, relevant study of fake news. Thank you, Mica Johnson , Knowledge Quest, and AASL for the blog post and the lessons.

  2. Where did you find the Stanford study worksheets? Great article!

  3. Laura,

    I love your piece in SLJ on this very topic:
    http://www.slj.com/2016/11/industry-news/teaching-media-literacy-now/#_

    I feel like this is such an important and critical skill we have to teach students. I’m stoked that so many school libs seem to be motivated by the fake news epidemic.

    The worksheets were in the study, and there are also examples of answers.

  4. Great article. We still run evaluation of websites lessons but you are right resources evaluation is so much more relevant and useful. I too would be interested to hear where to find the Stanford study worksheets.

  5. Elizabeth,

    I clicked on the Stanford Study that was linked from various articles, and when I scrolled through it I saw some blank worksheets. I’m a dork, but I read a lot of the study, and I think it’s super interesting.

  6. I just wish I could read the horrible handwriting of the students notes. Communication is a 2-way street.

  7. Thank you so much for the ideas! I don’t know if anyone will see this but I would love to see some examples of the memes you shared with your students. That’s an aspect I haven’t explored with students.

    Thank you!

  8. Kari-

    I deleted the ones I made, because I used a free meme generator to illustrate how easy it is to generate fake news and I didn’t want the fake memes I made just sitting online because of fair use/copy right, and contributing to fake news.
    I made ones based on rumors that Obama encouraged illegal immigrants to vote, and I used this list for other meme ideas: http://www.factcheck.org/hot-topics/

    I used this one from snopes because it provides a “source” http://www.snopes.com/sturgis-tax-hike/

    I also used this one http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/10/politics/trump-quote-facebook-trnd/

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