Learn to avoid fake news—and teach your students to do the same

Step 1: Stop getting news from social media

A recent study shows students are unable to spot fake news on the internet. 

This inability has dangerous repercussions: "[Perpetuating] false information...can result in real problems," says Arizona State University's (ASU) associate professor of social and behavioral sciences Alex Halavais.

And according to a report from the American Psychological Association, even if you know a story is false, it will still affect your judgement. It's a scary thought—and one that begs the question: How do we combat misinformation?

Here's what schools and news sites have done to battle fake news so far:                

  • Nathan Allen, the moderator for Reddit's r/Science channel has taken pains to block "sea lion" users from the site. Allen defines sea lions as readers who respond to scientists' work they don't agree with by "questions demanding evidence for every point they make, as a way to throw them off point or exhaust them."
  • University of California, Davis professor Tessa Hill had her students participate in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit's r/Science channel. For the duration of the session, Hill's students, who study oceanography, responded to questions from the public about the field. AMA sessions allow students to "become digital citizens in online communities" and spread legitimate, scientific information, Jeffery Young writes for EdSurge.
  •  ASU associate professor Christopher Hanlon has organized a "teach-in,"—a free event featuring presentations aimed at clearing up "what is real and what is not real" in commonly misconstrued topics such as:
    • Islamophophia;
    • Religious liberties; and
    • Abortion access and law.

Colleges and universities can be biased, too

And here's what you can do personally:

Find a baseline

Writing for Fast Company, Art Markman suggests subscribing to a reputable news source, which he says will give you a "baseline against which to judge conflicting angles."

A BuzzFeed analysis recently found that mainstream media outlets tend to publish truthful content, which means you'll likely find this baseline by visiting a traditional news outlet.

Take a break from social media

Markman advises readers to stop using social media feeds as a primary news source. "Most people tend to live in echo chambers of their own creation," writes Markman. These echo chambers, which are "compounded algorithmically," make it difficult to find stories in your newsfeed that you disagree with.

Markman says echo chambers are problematic because people "tend to be more skeptical of stories that diverge from [their] opinions." When you see a story you agree with, you're less likely to look into its factuality as you would if you disagreed.

"Leaning less heavily on social media for news may expose you to more content that you'll actually want to bother to look into," says Markman.

How should students be using social media?

Make time to investigate

"The antidote here is depth," says Markman. "And depth takes time." When you make the time to really learn about a subject, you'll be less susceptible to fake news.

To pick up real expertise on a subject, consider:

  • Reading long-form magazines;
  • Watching credible documentaries; and
  • Reading nonfiction books by credible authors. 

(Greguska, Arizona State University website, 11/30; Markman, Fast Company, 12/6; Young, EdSurge, 11/30).

Libraries are vital for this step. Redesign yours for a digital era

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague