Every day, countless stories emerge online that contain misleading or false information.
What began as an insidious trend of knowingly or unknowingly publishing false news, however, has been described by experts as a larger predatory market where information is carelessly scooped up and republished, circulating virally and globally.
Prominent examples of click-bait headlines last year include, “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide”, or “Florida man dies in meth-lab explosion after lighting farts on fire.”
A recent study conducted by Stanford University found that the majority of young people were unable to tell the difference between fabricated and authentic stories, making them particularly vulnerable to fake news.
The study asked more than 7,800 students from middle school, high school and college to evaluate the information presented in tweets and articles. Several exercises were used to test the students’ ability to identify fake news. The researchers were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively spot fake news. When it came to news tweets, many students failed to check the source. Rather, the amount of detail contained in the tweet was used to determine credibility. The more detail, the more credible.
The study concluded that “young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak”.
“If I’m intrigued by the story I will check other sources and ask if my friends if they’ve heard of the story too,” said Humber Accounting student Tyler Santaguida.
Astoria Dawson studies Emergency Telecommunications and says she attempts to verify the authenticity of her news by looking for “professional appearance” while “paying attention to detail”.
However, the Stanford Study also found that a professional appearance and photographs easily convinced some students that a site was neutral and accurate.
“Ever since the World Wide Web became available for anyone to easily publish information, there have been concerns about how this would affect the public’s ability to filter and judge the information they receive as compared to the traditional information channels (newspapers, television, radio) they had previously relied upon for information,” says Humber’s librarian, Adam Weissengruber.
Weissengruber suggests using the CRAP (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose) test when attempting to critically evaluate online information.
“Using the CRAP method is the best way for anyone to try and better understand the information they consume,” Weissengruber said.
The approach calls for such questions as:
— Who are/is the author(s)?
— Do they have an obvious bias for a certain side of an issue?
— On the technical side,is the website a traditional .com address or is it a personal blogging platform?
— Who is advertising on the website? Are there traditional established organizations placing ads or are there more questionable advertisers like products with outrageous health claims?
With the problem of fake news apparently intensifying,the solution seems to lie in providing students with the media literacy skills they need to evaluate sources.