ANDOVER (CBS) — Fake news has become a real problem of our culture–especially when it spreads fast on social media.
It’s become so pervasive that Andover High School teachers Mary Robb and Ruth Masters decided to teach students how to spot it when they see it–and that new lesson has turned into a very popular class, “Democracy and Media Literacy.”
Students learn fake news is not flawed news or biased coverage, but completely made up. For example–did you think Morgan Freeman died last week when you saw it on Facebook? He’s very much alive. That’s fake news.
“To not include it, we’d be derelict in our duty to help them develop the skills they need to understand the news so that they can make well-informed decisions,” Robb said. “If we ignored it, that would just be irresponsible on our part.”
In the class, kids learn the ability to recognize legitimate news online that includes facts and evidence–“it has two independent different sources, or one highly-placed credible source,” explains one student–rather than completely fabricated stories like last year’s “Pizzagate,” which led to a shooting at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Or, remember those frantic stories about the spread of Ebola?
“Perfect example of how fake news shaped policy,” Robb said.
The lesson plans are based on ones created by the Newseum in Washington–and students have flocked to the class.
“I think it’s hard to see what’s real and what’s not with all the fake sources out there,” one student said.
Robb says students come to class with examples of their own from Twitter and Facebook. They’re aware of the growth of the fake news industry, and they don’t like it.
“That really affects the public belief and their opinion, and that could sway the outcome of an election or anything in general,” said student Jack Rigazio.
But they’re developing the skills to counter it.
“I’m learning how to be better informed and learning how to tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t,” student Jazmine Graize said.
Robb said she’s now confident the students will go to college armed with some really good skills in spotting fake news.
The teachers point out that, because news is written by human beings, there will be bias, and readers should look out for that–and counter it by reading from a wide range of sources.
Students were adamant that they want a clear distinction between news and entertainment.
Some said they liked the President’s use of Twitter, but said he should slow down, and be more thoughtful about it.