Information Literacy: How to Combat Fake News

Fake News and Information Literacy For Students

Fake News and Information Literacy For StudentsIn a world where click-bait rules supreme and anyone can publish what they want, it is downright difficult to separate the truth from fiction. The internet is full of people manipulating the truth to serve their own agendas, at best. At worst, there are those who are deliberately lying to sensationalize people or events. If, as adults, it is difficult for us to know where to get reliable information, and when stories are blown out of proportion, how can we possibly expect our students to beat these challenges? If educators don’t make information literacy a priority, we run the risk of allowing precious minds to be contaminated unknowingly with all manner of falsehood and lies.

In his song “Waiting on the World to Change,” John Mayer says “when they own the information, oh they can bend it all they want,” referring to news broadcasts on TV. According to the song, this is one of the reasons we need to wait for the world to change. And change it has. When this song was released ten years ago, no one could have imagined just how much information can be bent when everyone owns it. Rather than news sources becoming more truthful and presenting information accurately, private citizens are taking matters into their own hands, publishing unchecked and false information all over the internet, where impressionable minds will absorb and believe it.

Facebook is one of the main tools that fake news sites use to spread false information. Clicking “share” is all too easy when you see a catchy headline. In fact, the overwhelming majority of articles shared on Facebook were never even read by the people who shared them . At the same time, Facebook is afraid of using filters because the site has been accused in the past of biased filtering practices.

The recent US presidential election is what really brought out this issue. People were so excited by the extreme statements of President-Elect Donald J. Trump, that many were publishing false or exaggerated statements of his to gain clicks and traffic on their sites. This is a big problem for today’s students who don’t go to credible publications to find out what is going on in the world. Rather, our students are relying on social media to help them stay informed. With all of the fake news out there, that is a frightening thought.

So what is an educator to do? By making information literacy a top priority, we can hope to help our students stay informed and discerning when it comes to news. We can teach them to distinguish credible sites from private blogs and rants by bringing all of the sources into our lessons and pointing out the differences. We can also teach them to double-check when they read information online, before they go ahead and formulate opinions based on what they have read. In general, by teaching our students not to believe everything they read, we will be giving them one of the most important life lessons for the 21st century.

Of course, teachers of virtually any subject can work on information literacy, especially when it comes to research projects and current events. Another option is to go through the school librarian, and create a required course where students really delve into the matter and learn how to approach and weed out fake news. Librarians are supposed to teach students how to “locate and evaluate information”. That responsibility means something entirely different today than it ever has in the past. Librarian Julie Danielson believes that information literacy is exactly what this responsibility entails for today’s school librarians.

No matter how you slice it, if we really want to prepare our students for the 21st century, we absolutely must include information literacy in the curriculum. Whether it comes from the school librarian or history teacher, administrators should be making sure that no student graduates high school without learning how to weed out fake news and determine credibility. If we don’t invest in information literacy, we simply have too much to lose.

What steps has your school taken to promote information literacy? How do you approach the challenge of fake news in the classroom?

2 Responses to Information Literacy: How to Combat Fake News

  1. Does this fake news include state sponsored propaganda? Washington Post, New York Times, Salon, Huffington Post?

  2. Erit says:

    Thank you for your comment, Matthew.
    You made an important point. Sometimes even “real” news outlets can publish information that is inaccurate. Readers need to be aware that all writing is biased in some way, and that is certainly something worth teaching to our students.

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