"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, January 2, 2017

Fake News and Misinformation

Facebook has been trying to figure out a way to help reduce misinformation on its site. Some people lately have suggested that fake news is influencing people's decisions including the most recent elections in the United States. How much fake information one sees on Facebook of course depends on who your Facebook friends are. Mark Zuckerberg shares on a post, "Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes." In "Media Influence on Opinion about Man-MadeGlobal Warming as Moderated by IndividualEcological Orientation and Personal Experience" George Stone finds that "media has no impact on perceptions that storm intensity is increasing. With both in mind, it is indeed unlikely that misinformation shared through social sites and blogs has contributed to election results. There is a natural tendency for a person to gravitate towards information that one wants to see. Even the Diary of a Wimpy Kid shows that a middle school child can be so determined to prove what one believes is right. 

Above copied from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
While Greg is trying to convince Rowley that volleyball is spelled with a "v" and not a "b", we should likewise realize that on Facebook, we cannot possibly be in a complete echo chamber. Zuckerberg also shares the following on his post:
The research shows that people are actually exposed to more diverse content on Facebook and social media than on traditional media like newspapers and TV. That's because you most likely only read a few newspapers or watch a few TV networks for news (and therefore only see a few viewpoints), whereas on Facebook almost everyone has friends with different viewpoints. Even if 90% of your friends vote for the same candidates, come from the same background or belong to the religion as you, that still means 10% of your friends will have different views and you will see those viewpoints in your feed.
The bottom line: Facebook is really a social site where we share photos, thoughts, victories and even pain. A social site cannot really play the role of arbiter of truth. There is of course, journalism, which seeks to correctly inform people, but with powerful interests that appear to control mass media, people are searching for alternatives. For this reason, what happens inside classrooms in elementary and high schools becomes even more important. Carlson wrote two decades ago in the journal Teaching of Psychology:
Good decisions depend on starting with good information and then reasoning with it logically. Texts and instruction in courses in critical thinking by philosophers and psychologists focus almost exclusively on how we should reason with information, and they provide little or no help in guiding students toward selecting sources of credible information. I argue that we necessarily depend on others for most of the important information we use and that a major payoff of good education is learning whom to believe. Instruction in criteria to use in selecting valid sources should be an explicit and important part of instruction in critical thinking.
All throughout my basic education, I only came across one teacher who showed me what a valid source looked like. We should do more. For a child, whom to believe is often a parent or a teacher. It is our job then to help children find valid sources of information.


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