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?