12-year-old students at Clemente Middle School in Germantown, Maryland is one of several schools worldwide which wants to train kids for the reality of living in an online world of fake news. It is not the only one. In the Czech Republic, high schools teach teens to identify propaganda from Russia and in Sweden, students as young as 10, are trained to spot the difference between news and Fox, er fake news.
In Pennsylvania, a state lawmaker wants mandatory media literacy classes in all public schools.
“The sophistication in how this false information is disguised and spread can make it very difficult for someone, particularly young people, to determine fact from fiction,” says Rep. Tim Briggs.
A survey by Common Sense Media said that while kids are good at consuming news they are rubbish when it comes to spotting what is real and what isn’t.
More than 44 percent of tweens and teens said they can tell the difference between fake news stories and real ones. But more than 30 percent admitted they shared a news story online — only to find out later that it was wrong or inaccurate.
The problem is that anyone can publish anything on the web and drilling the kids with a list of questions about a story could be the key.
One course created by the nonprofit, the News Literacy Project that teachers from California to Virginia are adding to their classrooms. It includes a 10-question checklist for identifying fake news.
- Who made this?
- Who is making money off it?
- Who might help or be harmed by this message?
- What is left out of this message that might be important?
- Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?
Other red flags include the lack of a by-line. A headline which is ALL CAPS or has shedloads of exclamation marks.
A story which promising you something “the media” does not want you to know is almost certainly fake.
Teachers say it’s working. Part of the reason: Kids, particularly middle schoolers, are inherently cynical and once they know the rules they are not sucked in.