Monday, December 19, 2016

Resource Roundup: Teaching Students to Think Critically about the (Fake) News

One of the stars of this election, besides the candidates, was the issue of fake news stories showing up in our social media feeds. In November, Buzzfeed’s investigative journalists reported that during the election hyperpartisan fake news stories that were shared on Facebook went viral at a much higher rate than true, unbiased stories. Fake news and media echo chambers are nothing new, but in the aftermath of the election, there has been a lot of handwringing about the effect that this trend, aided by modern technology, has had and will have on our country no matter your particular political affiliation.

The news stories about this fake news problem were dire enough to make you worry about the future of our democracy, but then in November a study from Stanford University found that out of a sample of 7,800 students, middle school through college, 80-90% had trouble judging the credibility of online news sources. This is probably not surprising to teachers or librarians who have encountered the issue with students, but it does point to a need for action on our part.

So, in that spirit, here are some resources that might help you teach your students how to critically evaluate the news they consume online. I have included background information about the issue, lesson plans, articles with tips and questions to ask and tools that can aid you teaching your students how to tackle the issue of fake news.

Background Information

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study
The NY Times provided this case study of how a fake news story went viral. The story is a  widely shared story about protesters who were paid to protest at a Trump rally that was ultimately proven false.
The Remedy for the Spread of Fake News? History Teachers
Of interest to history teachers specifically, this article give some historical and current context for the fake news debate.  There are sure to be more like this one, but this is a decent start.
Ted-Ed: Beware online "filter bubbles" - Eli Pariser
Pariser's TED video and subsequent book about "filter bubbles" has sparked a lot of the conversation about the compartmentalization of our political views caused by algorithms that are used to personalize our web searches and social network feeds. Since this is a TED-Ed video there are extra resources: a comprehension quiz and links.
Ted-Ed: How false news can spread - Noah Tavlin
This animated Ted-Ed video explains how fake news can be spread by journalist errors or lazy reporting. Since it is a Ted-Ed video, a quiz, links and a discussion topic are included.
Why the News Isn't Really the News
This short animated interview with the author of the book Trust Me, I'm Lying shows how people like him manipulate the news media so they will publish false or misleading stories.
Lesson Plans
Center for News Literacy: Digital Resource Center
This site is rich with resources about news literacy that teachers can draw on for their classroom. A course developed at Stony Brook University on news literacy and that is targeted at middle and high school classrooms is included on the site. A  related story from PBS Newshour  shows how this curriculum is being used in classrooms. There are also lessons in a section called "ripped from the headlines" that relate to current news topics. This is also a news literacy glossary that defines a number of terms that would be helpful for students to know. The director of the center shares some useful context in a NY Times Learning Network post.
Project Look Sharp: News Accuracy and Credibility
Project Look Sharp, an initiative out of Ithaca College, focuses on media literacy. On their site, they created a special page that collects lesson plans they have created that relate to verifying the accuracy and credibility of news stories. Though they don’t address the recent rash of fake news stories specifically, these will be very useful for Social Studies and English teachers.
Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age
The Facing History and Ourselves organization partnered with The News Literacy Project to develop this unit plan that helps students learn to be more critical consumer of news stories. There are 11 individual lessons listed at the bottom of the unit homepage.
MediaSmarts: Authentication Beyond the Classroom
This lesson plan from the MediaSmarts organization teaches students how to fact check viral videos and other content. It is a part of Canadian digital literacy curriculum that is linked to from this page. There are additional lessons in their curriculum that might be useful for the classroom.
KQED: The Honest Truth about Fake News … and How Not to Fall for It (with Lesson Plan)
This news story provides some context for educators and links to a lesson plan that might be helpful.


Stony Brook University: NPR s "Breaking News Consumer's Handbooks"
This article from the Center for News Literacy highlights the Breaking News Consumer Handbooks stories and checklists that the NPR show On the Media creates to guide news consumers when hearing stories about breaking news stories. I have provided a link to story here for K-12 context, but the complete list of handbooks can be found on the show's website.
Ted-Ed: How to choose your news - Damon Brown
This animated Ted-Ed video explains how to sort through news to sort out facts and opinions from an overwhelming number and types of news sources. Since it is a Ted-Ed video, a quiz, links and a discussion topic are included.
How Stuff Works: 10 Ways to Spot a Fake News Story
How Stuff Works provides a decent checklist of things to look out for when vetting an online news story. This article, in addition to the other checklists included here have  a lot of overlap, but they are all good resources to sift through.
The Fact Checker’s Guide for Detecting Fake News
From the Fact Checker column at the Washington Post, this is a short guide for things to consider before posting fake news to your social media feed.
A Finder’s Guide to Facts
NPR’s Steve Inskeep provides some context and questions to consider when vetting the veracity of a news story. Another post on NPR’s All Tech Considered blog covers similar territory, but it is worth a look too.
6 Tips for Identifying Fake News
Here is one more list of tips for spotting fake news. This one is from the Everyday Einstein blog, a part of the respected Quick and Dirty Tips network of sites.


11 Tools to Verify that Online Info - Julie Smith
This blog post describes 11 tools that users can employ to verify the veracity of online information. It includes, but it doesn't include news fact checking sites like PolitiFact ,, or others, but there are some good tools here.
Allsides is a site that shows feeds from news sources that present multiple points of view on current events. Included sources have been voted left, right or center by site visitors. The site allows you to search or browse for specific issues. There is also a crowd sourced dictionary that has been created and edited by volunteers who represent a range of viewpoints. Blue Feed, Red Feed
This page from the Wall Street Journal website has a live feed of items that have been widely shared by users who are self-described "very liberal" vs. "very conservative." The feed shows the wide gulf between the two sides of the debate. The results are filtered with tags at the top of the feed.
Google Doc: False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources
This publicly shared Google Docs file created by a college professor has gotten a lot of press in the recent flurry of stories about fake news after the election. It created some controversy because some of the sites that were included have been disputed by right leaning websites.
Google My Activity Page
This is Google's My Activity page. Users can login and see the history and settings for their activity on Google's products. It would be useful to demonstrate how Google tracks your activity to personalize ads and searches in their products. It might also provide an insight to students about why they may be getting different search results from their friends.
Only You Can Stop the Spread of Fake News
This Slate article describes a new Chrome web extension that their staff created for identifying fake news articles on Facebook. The took adds a note above fake news stories with a red banner and links to verified stories that refute the article.