"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, February 13, 2017

Learning to Avoid Fake News

A lawmaker in California has recently introduced a bill that requires teaching Grade 7-12 students how to tell fake news from real news. The proposed bill states "The Instructional Quality Commission shall develop, and the state board shall adopt, revised curriculum standards and frameworks for English language arts, mathematics, history-social science, and science that incorporate civic online reasoning. For purposes of this section, “civic online reasoning” means the ability to judge the credibility and quality of information found on Internet Web sites, including social media." How does one teach "civic online reasoning"? This is actually challenging because we are often gullible for news we would like to see. We always gravitate towards finding support for our own biases and prejudices. The Associated Press quotes a teacher from North Carolina, Bill Ferriter, who offers this advice, "encourage students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up."

"Common sense" is difficult to teach because it often goes against our instincts, but the last phrase, "articles that seem aimed at riling them up", could be something helpful to think about. When an article raises your emotion, it may be wise to be critical. We find a lot of these articles on social media. Just today, I saw a post showing a photograph of students in a museum with their eyes fixed on their smartphones:

Above copied from The Telegraph
The photo is not fake but this became viral when people started adding the comment that it is a picture of how our society is now trapped in our little gadget, the smartphone. That perspective, however, is grossly misleading, as another photo shows on Twitter (also reported in The Telegraph):

Above copied from The Telegraph
Unfortunately, the above was retweeted less than a hundred times while the first one went viral. The second piece of the story was not that hot and did not really rile us up. This illustrates how difficult it is to avoid fake news. Fake news are "hot". Watching our emotions can help us spot when we are looking at a piece of misinformation. And this is not even about politics.


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