In the wake of a brutal and drawn out election season, more and more disturbing truths are being revealed, especially regarding how people see, view, and evaluate information on the internet via social media sites. According to this study from Standford University, it was obvious that “students need further instruction in how best to navigate social media content, particularly when that content comes from a source with a clear political agenda.” That’s scary stuff! We’ve all seen the fake news sites that pervaded social media during this election and now its being shown that we’re not only being complacent in the spread of misinformation, but as librarians, we are actively allowing students to go out into the world without these skills.
In an article for School Library Journal, Laura Gardner broke down the implications of this study and what it means for school librarians and their programs. She begins with this question: “How can we educate our students to evaluate the information they find online when so many adults are sharing inaccurate articles on social media?” In my opinion, tackling this question with students needs to be a two-pronged approach – first, we need to admit to students that adults are not always right about the information they post and they are just as capable of being manipulated, and two, that we are there to teach them the skills and give them the tools to prevent that happening in their own social media use. One of these tools is the CARS checklist (linked in the article). This checklist provides students with questions to help them look at online sources critically and analytically. Along with this checklist and another toolkit for tackling a “post-truth” world, Gardner dives into a short, yet concise plan for helping our students use social media responsibly.
She breaks it down into two sections: 1) rethinking how we teach evaluation, and 2) embracing the opportunity. Through rethinking our teaching methods, it is apparent that our past ways are just not good enough. Librarians need to become educated in the ways to recognize fake news today, in order to pass that information on. Part of that, is providing our students with realistic ways in which to analyze their news — how to find the sources, how to verify the authors, etc. This all should be done without ostracizing people based on their political, social, etc. views. Next, librarians should recognize this moment for what it is: a chance to teach our students an extremely valuable skill, in the hopes that we don’t have another political election that is dominated by misinformation.
Here is a quick lesson plan I put together that could be taught in the library or the classroom (I kind of imagine it as a library seminar):
- Conduct a presentation in which fake news is introduced as a major societal concern. Provide statistics from this past election. Introduce them to your “tool kit” for analyzing online sources. Show examples of fake news stories.
- As a group, critically look at examples of real and fake news stories using the
- Provide more examples of new stories. Have students look at them individually using the tools provided, and then write down their own individual conclusions.
- Discuss conclusions as a group, going through each news stories.
- Prompt a discussion about the effects of fake news. Invite students to share their personal feelings and experiences.