Fake news: Identifying, debunking and discussing false narratives with learners

Students today are often heavily engaged in the online community, moving in social spheres that may be foreign to their teachers. With studies revealing that 48% of Australians now use social media as a news source, it is increasingly important for educators to understand how their students are engaging with online content and communities.

Fake news’ is defined as false information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. As educators, it’s important that we provide the skills and tools to help students navigate the online sphere effectively and to debunk false, misleading and biased content.

You can watch the full recording of Alyce Hogg introduce the drivers of fake news and share strategies for identifying and debunking fake news here. Keep reading for a summary of the ideas covered.

When reviewing an article, keep an eye out for red flags which can help determine whether an article is fake.

Check the formatting

  • The typographical choice of capitalising each word in a headline is a style choice that has fallen out of vogue and is not employed by most legitimate news publications.
  • We weary of bizarre formatting and typos such as extra spaces or unusual punctuation marks.
  • You may note the lack of an author named in the piece. Articles written by ‘Admin’, ‘Staff’, or ‘Team’ could be a red flag however there are some exceptions as news sources such as ‘The Age’ will use ‘Staff writer’.
  • Check the date of events in the article to see if they line up with the date of publication. Legitimate news publications understand the urgency of publishing articles in response to an event.

Googling the text

Journalists have a responsibility to avoid plagiarism and to provide attribution for information that they may have acquired from another source. One of the easiest ways to fact check the legitimacy of an article is to search for it on Google. You may have to try searching for different segments of the headline or text in the article as different phrases may return different results. It is a huge red flag if you search an article and can see that the source has copied other more legitimate websites.

You can also use Google reverse image search to find other instances of an image in an article being used. Through this process you will hopefully come across the original image which can help to debunk or verify an image.

Fact checking

You can use a reputable fact checker to verify news stories. These fact checkers are fast as they have a team that try to get on top of these stories before they’ve gone too far. There are numerous free fact checkers available online:

Tips for talking to your learners about fake news

  • Be aware that young people get a huge amount of their news from social media and the challenges this presents. Challenges include:
    • Filter bubbles: The idea that we tend to be friends with like-minded people and see the content that they share. We can be limited in our exposure to ideas, belief systems and people.
    • Algorithms: Facebook will notice your preference for particular types of content and will then serve you that type of content from other news sites. This can lock you into filter bubbles where you unknowingly allow social media to curate your news diet for you.
    • Echo chambers: Your opinions are reflected back to you by the people you choose to interact with. This can result in a lack of perspective about other people’s views and ideas and will often stagnate your ideologies and opinions.
  • Encourage critical thinking by asking your students questions such as:
    • “How do you know that it is a reliable source?”
    • “Who is the source? Can I trust them?”
  • Encourage students to research beyond social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and their comments sections.

As we spend more time online, news literacy is increasingly important. Students need to be aware of the important position the press hold in a liberal democratic society as the fourth estate; the institution that holds the power to account. This awareness can help students look at fake news in a different way – they can realise how democracy is at risk with this kind of content due to its manipulation of not just one person, but many.

For examples of fake news, explore the slides below.

To continue the conversation, contact Alyce Hogg, or share your thoughts and ideas via Yammer, Twitter or LinkedIn.