Media Savvy in the age of “Fake News”

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Mother talking with daughters (10-11)

Nearly every day we hear the term “fake news” whether used in the political context, or increasingly, through social media platforms. Whether you find this disturbing or not, one thing has been proven: lies and falsehoods spread much more rapidly than the truth.

So say researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who studied news stories shared on Twitter between 2006 and 2017. After classifying news as true or false using proven fact-checking organizations (with 98% accuracy rates), they concluded: Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.

In fact, evidence of the study suggested that the public actually craves fake news: “we’ve developed a need for self-validating sensationalism, rather than rigorously-verified news content” and the social media sector is happy to provide it.

What options do we have now?  Researchers recommend using early education to help people recognize falsehoods, and to apply critical thinking to the information we consume. There is a push across the country to include media literacy, or internet information classes, in school curriculum. In other words, make fact-checking second nature to younger children so they are less vulnerable to falsehoods and agenda-driven information throughout their lives. So far, the results of this education initiative are demonstrating success in 15-27-year-olds.

Several states have initiated legislation to incorporate media literacy in public school education, but it cannot stop there. This is where after-school programs, particularly Chrysalis After-School programs, excel. Included in all after-school programs is the use of ‘crucial thinking’ — in other words, knowing how to think, not what to think.

This skill goes beyond memorization, which is often used early in life, an elevates thinking to analysis and logic. And it really isn’t difficult – staring as early as kindergarten, educators and after-school programs are employing simple skills we all can use with children in our lives. Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask open-ended questions: encouraging children to respond creatively without the fear of being wrong
  2. Classify and categorize: teach children to sort according to a rule or set of rules they discover, understand, and apply — everything from clean clothes to foods to toys can be sorted according to differences and similarities
  3. Find patterns: for example, when driving, ask your child to identify signs of similar shape or color
  4. Work in groups: this helps children see and hear the thought processes of peers, helping them understand there may be several ways of solving a problem
  5. Make decisions: help children consider the pros and cons of a decision, and don’t worry if they make a wrong choice — you can later talk about how they feel about their choice, or whether they might make a different choice next time

Here is a great resource on How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media Savvy). This site, Common Sense Media, offers a tremendous amount of information to help adults, educators, and advocates understand how to help children understand and use media safely and effectively. Please share this resource with other parents and adults.

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