Let's face it, fake news is really nothing new. The only thing that has changed is that it is getting more headlines due to its prominence surrounding the presidential election. In referencing this, I have to admit that I am hesitant to even mention fake news for fear that the conversation will quickly devolve into politically-based finger-pointing, but I think it is important to talk about this phenomenon and discuss what we are doing to educate our students in the area of reliable sources of information.
Getting into the habit of simply tossing a news story or blog post quickly into the category of fake news is not the recipe that will alleviate the problem. There are a number of issues that we need to review before we come to the conclusion that a story is fake. One is that there is a stark difference between a story with an honest error and a story that is developed with the primary intent of misleading the reader. More important is the question about how we come to the conclusion that a story is not accurate. Are we going to take someone else's word that a story is fake or are we capable of figuring it out for ourselves? It is important that we avoid the categorization of news into one of two piles (fake and not-fake) and dig deeper.
The first step in increasing the depth of analysis on the topic of on-line news sources. We have a gaping knowledge deficit in this area that we need to quickly address. This is not simply a digital citizenship discussion, this is a citizenship discussion. If we are going to adequately prepare our students to be responsible and well-informed citizens then we need to reinforce the skills necessary to discern between reliable sources of information in all subjects. As long as this is left to one department in the school that teaches a lesson or two involving research, we will miss our target by a long shot. We need to help students find reliable sources for their health, their wealth, and whatever else they decide they would like to learn more about.
So let's stop talking about fake news, an exercise that is likely to lead us down an inescapable rabbit hole, and start talking about reliable sources of information. For every topic where research is needed, let's begin by having our convince us why what they found should be deemed a reliable source. I firmly believe that our students enjoy an authentic challenge and the only way that they will solve the complicated riddle regarding the reliability of sources of information is if we offer them our guidance.