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Just last week, The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette featured an article on how local educators—of students from elementary school to college—are working to improve information literacy skills in an effort to reduce students’ susceptibility to fake news. Sound familiar? Of course—because librarians have tackled the issues of misinformation and source quality for years. But the social media-fueled rise in fake news means that information literacy is more important than ever. As the Association of College & Research Libraries notes, “Librarians, and academic librarians more specifically, can play a vital role in empowering and equipping students to participate in an increasingly complicated information ecosystem.”
The Many Faces of Fake News
Students aren’t just dealing with a proliferation of fake news. They must also recognize fake news in all its variations. According to Draft News at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, there are seven types of fake news:
While a tongue-in-cheek ‘article’ from The Onion about the CIA using black highlighters may seem obviously false, the sharing of spoof stories can distance the tale from its source, leading to confusion over its validity—even when the topic seems unbelievable. And some of the more blatant forms of fake news are deliberately misleading, as we saw with the ‘Pizzagate Conspiracy’ story that circulated widely during the 2016 election campaign.
Tactics for Helping Students Recognize Fake News
Librarians and faculty are at the forefront of equipping students with information literacy skills and research tools that provide access to a wide range of reputable sources. What tactics are they using?
Teaching students how to vet sources. As we noted in a previous blog, Stanford University researchers found that a majority of students were inclined to validate news content as true when it came from a well-designed website, included links to traditional news organizations or had a well-written ‘About’ page. But equipped with the right tips—such as checking the web URL for red flags, seeking out confirmation from other sources or verifying a story’s validity using sites like Snopes.com or FactCheck.org—students are able to identify fake news more easily.
Demonstrating how fake news happens. Have students take a legitimate story and give it a spin that makes it false. The most convincing stories receive higher grades. Encouraging students to “fake people out” with their stories actually helps them realize how others are using the same approach to spread fake news.
Discussing search engine and social media alogorithms. When students conduct research—or even when they’re just surfing social media for fun—they need to understand that stories that fill news feeds don’t achieve top ranking because they are true, but because they are sponsored or popular. Explain the role that search engine optimization plays in pushing certain stories to the first page of results to reinforce the need to use a tool designed specifically for academic research rather than googling for answers.
If the media can get taken in by fake news—and it has happened—how can novice researchers hope to avoid the same fate? A focus on information literacy helps, empowering students to recognize fake news instead of perpetuating it. What are you doing to fight fake news?
3 Ways to Apply This Information Now
1. Learn more about Nexis Uni™, an academic research tool that brings together reputable sources with user-friendly features that digital natives expect.
2. Check out other higher education posts here on the blog.
3. Share this blog to keep the dialogue going with your colleagues and contacts.