Eggplants & ISIS: How to Fight Fake News

 “If you drink 3 glasses of eggplant juice everyday for 21 days you won’t have to ever wear contacts again!” Whenever an aunt shares such gems of nutrition advice, I don’t even have to ask where she got it from, the answer is always the same: WhatsApp or Facebook.

“We can’t let refugees into America because most of them are ISIS terrorists!” Whenever a student makes such sensational claims, I know he’s fallen for the latest story circulating on cable news, click-bait sites, or Twitter.

How could such well educated adults be victims of such clearly fake news?

I’m excited to report that Steve Edwards, Alden Loury & Odette Yousef of WBEZ and John Silva & Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project helped me start answering that question at the NewsLit Camp in Chicago and shared a number of practical strategies for combating fake news in the classroom.

Highlight of the Day: Nerding out with journalists I’d been listening to on WBEZ/NPR for the last 15 years!

Why do so many people consume & share fake news?

  • Financial Incentives: The more sensational and emotionally charged the content the more likely we are to click on it and share it. In a profit starved media landscape supported by advertising, click-bait sites and fake social media accounts have emerged with the sole purpose of attracting the most eyeballs & followers and selling them to the highest bidder.
  • Psychological Need: We get a dollop of dopamine when someone likes our tweet or post. We’re also hardwired to share whatever tidbit we know about a breaking story to see if it can be weaved into the broader narrative. (See: Shared Sense Making & Rumor Theory).
  • Prevalence: From talk radio to cable news and social media, we can’t escape it. Even if we abstain from all news media, stories find us via our family & friends.

What can we do about it?

  1. Get Nuanced: The more precisely we can help students label fake news, the more effectively we can help them fight it. Fake news take on many forms: manipulated content, satire, content, disinformation. (See this sample lesson from Checkology)
  2. Affirm but Probe: When students propagate ideas with little to no basis in fact, affirm their views and appreciate their willingness to share them. Then, help the student probe what may have shaped his or her views: Where did you hear that? What evidence supports that view? How might saying “X” make “Y” feel? What are other perspectives on the issue? What might lead people to feel that way?
  3. Uncover Bias: Our biases are rooted in race, class, political affiliation, and other identities. We often accuse various news sources of being biased because they threaten our worldview. (See: Hostile Media Effect).
    • Teaching Tip: Take the branding off of 3-5 articles on the same story from different news sites (e.g. CNN, Fox News, NPR, etc). See if students can identify which article came from which source. Discuss the extent to which the chart below is accurate or an oversimplification:

.

Too often journalists don’t belong to the communities they’re reporting on creating blind spots in their reporting. To help news organizations uncover them, ask students to contact local papers & news channels and ask them to participate in ASNE’s Newsroom Diversity Survey Have students share their findings by creating Wikipedia pages for local news organizations. Update their entry every year with the latest survey results.

4. Encourage Students to Take Action:

  • Ask students to reply to peddlers of fake news (and people who comment on it) with fact checks of their claims.
  • Show students how to do a reverse Image search to check the validity of suspicious pictures:

5. Get Grounded

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