While the internet has allowed for unprecedented levels of communication between people all across the globe, it turns out that we as a species were maybe not as interested in what other people had to say as we might have supposed. Increasingly, the rise of “fake news” provides online media consumers with narratives that they want to hear, rather than with objective facts. Adult Canadians have enough trouble picking out these deceptions, with over half of Canadians believed to have difficulties in determining a fabricated news story.
This is alarming in its own right, but younger Canadians still undergoing their education are less likely to have the needed reference points and background knowledge to identify fake news, though they may have better digital literacy than older Canadians. In recent years there has been a concentrated effort to try and provide tools for critical thinking and recognition through educational programs.
While critical thinking was already part of the curriculum in many places, more modern versions require the addition of digital literacy courses, as purveyors of false information online have grown increasingly sophisticated. As well, in a shifting digital world, it is not only the information itself that needs to be examined, but its context and medium as well.
So, what are some new tools that educators can introduce to students to help them better understand this complex topic? Thankfully while the internet is the cause of many of the problems presented, it also offers a variety of solutions. Some are actual websites or programs that offer guides or services to better pick out the truth. Snopes.com is a classic example of this, and the Canadian government itself has launched spotfakenews.ca. Digital solutions can also include better understanding how to use the infrastructure of the web, such as better use of the “search by image” function of Google, to see if pictures are being used out of context.
One of the best uses of the classroom space is for teachers and students to examine fake news samples together and break it down to understand the methodology and purpose behind it. Many believe “fake news” is too broad a category, and should be divided into malicious disinformation, with a specific agenda, and misinformation created for the purpose of satire and irony. While creating information evaluation checklists to analyze media is useful, it is no replacement for practice through shared analysis.
The methods of manipulation of information are only going to become more and more sophisticated as time goes on, and Canadian educators must be ready to help newer generations of students navigate the changing media landscape. The tools we use must continually be monitored and updated to make sure they are relevant to the world we find ourselves in.