Is It Fake News or Legitimate Reporting?

Extra, extra, read all about it…on the internet that is. Digital media has forever changed the way news is regulated and distributed in the United States. Large newspapers and news outlets are no longer the sole providers of information. It is everywhere. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can type up an article and pass it off as news.

Given this virtual freedom, it’s no surprise that there are mass amounts of fake news online. While it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish what is legitimate reporting and what is political agenda-pushing propaganda, hope is on the horizon. Following the many fake news scandals associated with the latest Presidential Election, news outlets and social media platforms are cracking down on the dissemination of fake news.

This is promising for parents trying to disseminate information for their own understanding, but also when facing questions from their kids. Unfortunately, until a solution to fake news is found, youth will continue to consume false news on their own, which means improved media literacy programs are needed now more than ever.

Teaching Youth About Media Literacy in Schools

A recent Stanford study found that students in nearly all grade levels were unable to distinguish between real and fake news, which further solidified the need for updated media literacy programs in schools. Media literacy is the ability to analyze and evaluate media critically. Media literate individuals are able to understand complex issues disseminated by media and decipher between credible and non-credible news sources. Successful media literacy programs teach children and youth about the role media plays in shaping society, develop critical thinking skills, and recognize bias and misinformation.

Teachers across America have recognized this problem and come together to find solutions. One teacher created a seven-step process to determine a source’s credibility, while another holds a weekly Genius Hour. During this time students propose a question that the entire class works to answer using the internet. Their teacher helps them to determine which sources are reliable and even connects them to sources with first-hand knowledge, sources such as scientists. This type of hands-on research develops the skills necessary to navigate the media well beyond the classroom, and is a significant step towards improving students’ media literacy.

Expanding Those Teachings Beyond the Traditional Classroom

Media literacy programs have popped up outside of the educational system as well, in attempts to properly education youth on this ever-expanding issue. The News Literacy Project (NLP) is a “nonpartisan national education nonprofit that works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age.” Through classroom instruction, after-school, and online programs the project teaches that not all information is created equal and utilizes journalistic principles to determine the legitimacy of news sources.

In 2016, NLP launched the Checkology virtual classroom to help teachers across the nation educate children on media literacy. The program includes experts on the First Amendment and journalists from reputable news outlets like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Washington Post. Over 2,000 teachers from 50 states have participated in the program, teaching over 2.2 million students.

Until a legislative or technical solution is achieved, education is the best defense in the fight against fake news and misinformation. Fortunately, many have acknowledged the problem and new media literacy programs have been developed for this very purpose. Hopefully, with the help of these programs, today’s youth will grow into media literate individuals who can easily identify fake news stories and avoid incidents like Pizzagate in the future.

Kali Muir is an ambitious freelance writer with a BA in Communications. She was born in Canada but has since lived in Norway, Denmark, and England. Her work experience is as diverse as her past addresses, including roles in technical communication, corporate communication, marketing, and article writing. She has experience working in varied business sectors: Oil & Gas, Engineering & Technology, Clothing & Equipment Retail, and Creative Writing. Follow Kali’s professional and personal journey at www.kalimuir.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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