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:

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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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6 Tips for Facilitating Discussions on Race with Predominantly White Students

Teachers at predominantly white schools, especially those in conservative communities, may be reluctant to discuss race in the classroom. However, it is precisely in these communities that conversations about how race, ethnicity, and other social identities are critical for broadening students worldview.

Here are some ideas on how to have these conversations based on a town hall that a group of teachers and I helped organize at my school in an affluent, predominantly white public school in the suburbs of Chicago.

During the town hall we first asked a panel of diverse students share an experience that exemplified their experience with race or ethnicity in our school community. Then, we asked these students to join teachers who had signed up to attend the town hall to help facilitate discussions with their students.

A special thanks to Robin Vannoy, Robyn Corelitz, Billson Rasavongxay, Noah Lawrence, Cassandra Richardson and Deborah Powell for their ideas and support!

1. Prepare a Framework 

Ask student facilitators and teachers to carefully read articles on race along and strategies for leading difficult conversations from Teaching Tolerance, Harvard Graduate School of Education: Usable Knowledge, and Anti-Defamation League.

2. Ask Students to Complete an Anonymous Survey

Statement

Agree

Disagree

1. I am a student at Hinsdale Central High School.

2. I can turn on the television and see people of my race/ethnicity widely represented.
3.I can be sure that the curriculum in my classes celebrates the contributions of my race.
4. I can criticize our government without being seen as a cultural outsider.
5. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race/ethnicity.
6. I can easily find groups of friends who understand my cultural/ethnic background.
7. I feel I can be myself in class by sharing my views without worrying about being seen by my peers as an outsider.
8. I can easily find teachers and other staff members who are of my cultural/ethnic background.

SOURCE: National Seed Project

3. Discuss why race matters

cover_article_2005_en_US
Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools

“Our racial history is part of our present, it is in our structures…in the ways schools are organized, in how neighborhoods are laid out, in the composition of our family trees, in the unconscious stereotypes that get primed when we mentally sort people along racial lines. We walk around with it, and while it is never the only dynamic in the room, it matters.”

4. Establish Ground Rules

  1. Assume good intentions. Everyone is in the room because they desire to learn from one another.
  2. Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing (“I” instead of “they,” “we,” and “you”).
  3. Respectfully challenge one another by asking questions, but avoid personal attacks — focus on ideas.
  4. Actively speak & listen — community growth depends on expressing & listening to every voice. The goal is not to agree but to gain a deeper understanding.
  5. Be conscious of body language and nonverbal responses — they can be as disrespectful as words.

SOURCE: EdChange & University of Missouri

5. Suggest Questions but let Students Choose 

  1. Why is it challenging to have conversations about race & diversity?
  2. To what extent are your cultures & traditions represented in popular culture & at Hinsdale Central?
  3. In what ways do you have advantages or disadvantages that you did not earn?
  4. Why might some students remain silent in order to feel safe with peers, in classrooms, or at school?
  5. How can we help create a community that allows all students to be themselves & share their voice?

6. Scaffold Difficult Conversations

white-final
What Does it Mean to be White?
  1. I’m nervous/scared/uncomfortable to say this… and/but…
  2. From my experience/perspective as (identity)…
  3. It feels risky to say this and/but…
  4. I just felt something shift in the group. I’m wondering if anyone else did.
  5. I have always heard / thought that…. What are your thoughts on that?
  6. I have a different perspective because…

Developed by Anika Nailah & Robin DiAngelo, 2013