Case Study 6
Several media companies offer fact-checking services. It is beneficial to consult them with teenagers and to pose questions about the ways in which media can distort the truth. These services can offer insight into the techniques various organizations and bad actors use to deceive audiences, as well as into the bias that can skew the information put out by various news organizations. Discussing these examples with your children get help raise awareness of the various ploys used to manipulate readers and viewers, and help them hone their analytical and critical skills.
Examining the false stories fact-checked by these organization can be a helpful exercise. Here is an example of a false story fact-checked by Snopes:
Understanding examples like these can give students insight into techniques fake news sites use to hook and deceive an audience. Here, for example, the violent image may grab viewers’ attention and cause them to let their critical guard now. Attaching the fake story to a genuine news item (Samsung’s smartphone recall) also makes readers more likely to believe and share the false story, since it appears like a development in an ongoing story.
Student’s can also learn from the fact-checkers’ analysis. Here, they track down the original photos to show how the fake site has repurposed them, and they dig into the website reputation and background.
Researchers Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew recommend teaching students to navigate the internet more like fact-checkers. Students, they write, tend to “read vertically, evaluating online articles as if they were printed news stories.” Fact checkers, on the other hand, “read laterally, jumping off the original page, opening up a new tab, Googling the name of the organization or its president.”
Fact-checkers, Wineburg and McGrew write, are also less inclined to trust a website’s own description of its mission. They look for outside evidence from multiple sources to confirm or refute the website’s claims. And they don’t get hooked by enticing language or images, instead reading through a whole page of search results or information before deciding reflectively what links to follow or where else to look.
Finding good information online—and steering clear of bad information—are skills that can be taught and learned. They are increasingly vital at a time where multiple interests are leveraging the internet to attempt to monopolize our attention and shape our beliefs.