“If it’s going viral, it must be true:” Hampton Roads kids struggle with fake news, teachers sayBy Matt McKinney | The Virginian-Pilot
By Matt McKinney | The Virginian-Pilot
Kara Kimball has heard students cite some outlandish fake news articles in her four years teaching journalism at Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach. Ask her about the false rumors of celebrity deaths, or the one about the major tea company that supposedly used human urine in its product to keep costs in check.
They’re inundated with a wave of information on social media, a topic they’ve addressed in class, she said.
“They tell me, if it’s going viral, it must be true,” Kimball said. “My friends wouldn’t post something that’s not true.”
Whether they attend a cash-strapped city school or a plush suburban counterpart, many students across the country share a common struggle: judging the credibility of information online, according to a Stanford University study released last week.
The analysis relies on nearly 7,800 student responses to tests conducted over 18 months in a dozen states. Researchers looked at how well middle school, high school and college students evaluate the trustworthiness of information online.
“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak,” researchers wrote in an executive summary of the study.
The report coincides with the end of a presidential campaign season marred by the rise of fake news websites and disinformation surging on social media. Researchers wrote that they “worry that democracy is threatened” by how easily false or misleading information can spread.
Among the tests: Middle school students had to grade the credibility of Twitter posts; high school students were asked to decide whether to trust a photo shared on social media; and college students were asked to gauge the trustworthiness of a partisan website.
According to the study, students often struggled with identifying baseless claims on social media, fake news websites and advertisements made to look like news (known as “native advertising” or “sponsored content”) published on legitimate news websites, researchers found. The Virginian-Pilot website publishes sponsored content.
More than 80 percent of middle school students surveyed believed native advertising, identified as such, was a real news story. Researchers suggested many students do not understand the phrase and that it should be addressed as early as elementary school.
“There is just so much more information bombarding them from so many more sources today than what was the case 20 years ago with just the morning paper and the evening news,” Bruce Brady, Norfolk Public Schools’ senior coordinator of history and social science, wrote in an email. “Students, and even adults, need to take the time to analyze the source of the information and seek corroboration of what they read and hear.”
At Norview High School, teacher Carrie Caplan’s Advanced Placement seminar students go through a checklist to evaluate research sources, considering factors including an author’s reputation, neutrality and proximity to the subject.
But students with tech skills that seem like second nature are rarely finished products, she said.
“Through the years, I’ve noticed that we tend to make assumptions about the web savviness of digital natives, when really the things that they do on a regular basis are not academic at all,” she said.