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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do Educators Need Media Literacy as Much as Students Do?

By Peter DeWitt — November 22, 2016 4 min read
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How much real news are we missing because of all the fake news we’re reading?

We always talk about how our students need media literacy. They need to know how to find accurate sources, that are reliable and valid. Our students, we say, need to know how to think critically about the sources they are using because they need to be able to write research and opinion papers that are based on fact.

Are we so sure our teachers and leaders know how to do this?

It’s not that educators aren’t capable of telling a student to find valid resources, and always try to go two or three deep in the process to make sure that the source they use is true. What’s more concerning is whether educators actually do the same thing when they post to social media. It seems as though fake news is overtaking the amount of real news that is out there, and we are contributing to this harmful issue.

The reverberations from the presidential elections are not over. Anyone who thought the negative rhetoric would end when the candidate was elected are sadly mistaken. Every move is talked about, written about, and screamed about. Both sides continue to argue about how this could be the worst presidency ever, or how happy they are that this could be the best presidency ever. However, when scratching the surface of the information they use, it’s frightening to look at the sources.

Let’s take a non-political example. Another example from a few years ago was the fake passing of Morgan Freeman, which you can read more about here. It became so widely believed after people posted on Facebook and Twitter that CNN had to write a story to say the rumor was not true.

Unfortunately, there were educators who were quick to post the story on social media. All one had to do was click on the link to find that the same story was written about other celebrities who were very much alive but rumored to be deceased. The story was a hoax.

Has social media made us so ignorant that we believe the first story we read is accurate?

What has happened to accurate news? Is fake news more entertaining than real life, so we just believe it from the start? Before we can teach our students about media literacy, we should have a dose of it ourselves.

I Write Fake News
The BBC reported a story a few days ago about a writer that posts fake news on Facebook, and the writer is quite proud of it. You can read the whole story here, but the writer of fake news told the BBC that, “people are entertained by his style of news and thinks some media sites are guilty of publishing stories which border on fabrication.”

The writer went on to say that, “People read a headline and then don’t even bother to check the content before they share it,” and that “It ended up with up to two million views per month. Half the people fall for the stories, the other half are genuinely entertained by what they read.” The BBC reports that there are hundreds of fake news sites out there in cyberspace.

How much real news are we missing because of all the fake news we’re reading?

It has gotten so bad that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is taking steps toward making sure that fake news doesn’t appear on Facebook. Although that is an important step, is it really just up to Mark Zuckerberg to take this on? As adults, shouldn’t we be doing our part not to contribute to the fake news hysteria? After all, if people weren’t reading and posting it, we wouldn’t be seeing so much of it.

How Do We Know It’s Fake?
CNN recently published this article on how to spot fake news articles (find the full article here). Besides understanding the different types of misleading headlines and fake news stories, AJ Willingham of CNN writes that there are ten questions we should ask ourselves before posting. Some of those questions are:

“Does the story come from a strange URL?

Does the headline match the information in the article?

Is it a recent story or an old one that’s been repurposed?

Are the supporting videos or photos verifiable?

Does the article quote primary sources?”

My fear is that most people don’t take the time to sit back and reflect on whether the story is true, as much as they get caught up in the headline and instantly post it before they actually read the whole article because they want to be the first one of their friends to post the “breaking news story.”

In the End
One of the ways to combat the fake news story and contributions to mass hysteria on social media is through media literacy. It’s about getting our students to understand the questions to ask themselves before they cite, read or post a story that may not be valid.

However, the other way to combat this issue is to make sure educators have that same sense of media literacy. Too many people are posting stories so they can be the first ones to have it on their page, without every checking to make sure it’s true. And after we post fake news stories, it’s too late, because people repost and repost, and we can never take it back. Even if we find we made a mistake in posting something fake, we will get more views of the story than we will on our apology for posting it before reading.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of LoboStudioHamburg.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.