My students had watched a “documentary” on the Discovery Channel about mermaids which happened to be a fake news. This entertaining, but fake, documentary had videos, pictures, and eyewitness reports of people discovering mermaids in the vast oceans across the globe. While the show garnered excellent ratings for the Discovery Channel, it confused many kids and even quite a few adults. My students were swearing that mermaids had been found. We had several discussions that school year about there not being such a thing as mermaids, or at least they have not been truly discovered yet.   

This is just one example, a playful one from my own experience, of students not being able to distinguish between fake and real news. In today’s society, fake news is something that we hear about on an almost daily basis. Especially with the amount of social media sites that have made it so convenient to share articles that consist of half truths or straight out lies. How do we expect our kids to figure out what is fake news when adults are busy posting articles that are obviously slanted towards their political affiliation?  

This topic is definitely one that has to be discussed with kids. The spreading of misinformation is confusing and can lead to serious misunderstanding. The problem is just how many parents are taking the time to discuss the issue of fake news with their children? I can speak from my firsthand knowledge from in the classroom, and that is none of my students’ parents have tried to wisen up their children to the possibility of fake news. If I hadn’t tried to smarten them up about that fake documentary, to this day there would be 25 current high school students that would proclaim that their favorite mammal is a mermaid.  

So, of course, this leaves educating children about the dangers of fake news on the teachers. It is just another thing that has to be added on to our plate. It is up to educators to help the students navigate through information that is being supplied by so-called news sites and agencies. It is a scary world we live in where many people keep up on the news only by reading articles distributed on Facebook.  

How to Help 

Use fake news articles as teachable moments. Assist the students with developing abilities on how to spot fake news. Instruct them to always critically evaluate what they see online. Use this list to help your own students or your children at home.  

Is the media outlet a well-known source of traditional news? 

They might be able to recognize that it is fake news by the shady look of the actual website. Does the formatting look off? Are there several grammatical errors throughout not just the article, but the site as well.

Can you find reports of the same event on other news outlets? 

A simple Google search performed by the students should help them determine if it is indeed actual news. Are other sites reporting the same thing? Do all the sites look professional in nature? Are they citing sources in the article? 

How credible is the author?
Some of my older students tend to read a lot of sports articles online. Half the time they disagree with what is being written in the article. That is basically a given with sports articles anyway, but I always have them show me the article and we scroll down to read about the author. More often than not, the author is still a college student according to their short biography. Plus, it is always interesting to take a look at the picture of the author that is included with the bio. Quite a bit of the time, the picture shows someone that could probably pass as an eighth grader. Then I ask my students if this person was here in front of you saying the same thing, would you take them seriously? The students always say no. So then I ask them why do they take them seriously just because they are reading it on the internet instead?  

Is it pushing a narrow point of view? 

Many of these fake news articles and sites are just trying to further their agenda. They are not trying to be impartial by just reporting the news. They are more often trying to create the news instead. By stirring up supposed controversy, they are trying to manipulate feelings and thoughts. Showing students how this type of “reporting” is being accomplished will help them become much more aware of the problem.