How do we deal with misinformation in our social spaces?

It’s a situation that we are likely all too familiar with. We log in to our preferred social media platform, and as we scroll through we are surprised by a post from a distant relative or a past acquaintance that makes us pause. “Expert confirms Flu Shot behind deadly epidemic that’s killed thousands!” There are a few responses that we might have. The most likely is to roll our eyes and keep scrolling. Or perhaps its the fifth such post from them you’ve seen, and you finally take the extra few seconds to unfollow or unfriend (you never really liked Aunt Edith anyways…) Least likely, you might take the time to post a response, calling out dear old Aunt Edith that the article she posted from was not actually true, and might even provide her with a link to the Snopes article disproving it.

Which is the best response? In The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online, they reference the echo chamber effect and how people tend to seek information that aligns with their views. By ignoring or unfollowing a person who posts these sorts of articles are we putting ourselves in our own echo chamber? By not responding critically to false or misleading posts when we see them are we perpetuating the echo chambers of others? A recent BBC article points out that those over 65 are almost four times as likely to share fake news articles online, so maybe it is our duty to the older generation (looking at you Aunt Edith!) to confront their misinformation.  I don’t know that there is a right answer, but I believe that these are important discussions to have. Engaging students in these discussions can prepare them to respond in similar situations in their own digital spaces. Hopefully, it can also help them to think about the things that they are sharing online as well. While we focus on fake news on a more global scale, for teens a fake rumour shared on Snapchat can be far more damaging.

Perspective and Bias

Because the spread of outright incorrect facts is a growing problem, it’s also important for us to help our students understand the context, bias and perspective that was used to write articles that we read. I was first shown an article about the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide in my high school chemistry class, and it has stuck with me for years. This major component of acid rain can cause severe burns, accelerate the corrosion of metals, and is found in almost all tumours of terminal cancer patients. Dihydrogen Monoxide is water.

This is a silly example, but it illustrates an important point. While “facts” in a story or article can be true, the way in which they are written and the bias of the author can sway the reader in a direction that may not be accurate or fair. While most media outlets won’t be putting out stories on the dangers of DHMO, is is still important to know how they might be skewing the facts to influence readers opinions. This helpful graphic from Ad Fontes Media can give you a sense of where your news sources might lie (although who can say how biased this chart might be!)

In the Classroom

Before switching to being a technology integration teacher, I was a Grade 5 teacher and had the joy of guiding students throught the PYP Exhibition. Two and a half years ago we put a new spin on Exhibition and posed the entire unit as the students working in a news organization to research, create and publish news stories about their passions, interests and issues that they cared about. It was right around the time that the US Presidential election was happening, and talk of fake news was everywhere. Using resources from the BBC, National Geographic, and Common Sense Media, we explored explored what fake news was and how to identify it. This reinforced two important messages for the students, 1) It is important to understand where our information is coming from and do our best to ensure that it is accurate, and 2) In our own life and work (not just as fake news reporters) we need to make sure that the information that we are sharing is true and balanced.

Have you explored ideas of misinformation and fake news with younger students? I have never explicitly touched on the topic with younger grades and wonder how it could be inplemented with students who are not yet consuming “news media”.