Reading & Literacy

Arming Teens in the Fight Against Fake News

By Brenda Iasevoli — March 22, 2018 3 min read
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A new project called MediaWise, backed by a $3 million Google grant, aims to teach young people how to tell fact from fiction online.

There isn’t yet enough evidence that teaching media literacy can help students to resist disinformation, according to a new report, “The Promises, Challenges, and Futures of Media Literacy.” But in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of fake news all over the Internet, educating young people on how to judge the accuracy of the information they encounter online has taken on greater urgency. More states are pushing toward requiring schools to teach media literacy, and school librarians are increasingly tackling the role themselves.

This Education Week video for PBS News Hour looks at media literacy efforts in schools and how teachers are helping students not only to recognize bias in news stories, but also to identify when a story is entirely fabricated.

Now MediaWise will join the fight against fake news, partnering with the nonprofit journalism school Poynter Institute and the Stanford Graduate School of Education to create a curriculum and videos that train middle and high school students to become smarter consumers of online news. The goal is to reach a million students, half from low-income communities.

Poynter Institute president Neil Brown lamented that the spread of misinformation is “polluting our civic life.” It’s imperative in his view that young people, future voters, sharpen their media literacy skills. “Democracy works best when citizens can make decisions for themselves based on accurate, independent and honest information,” he said in a release.

The motivation for the project arose from research by the Stanford History Education Group revealing that the majority of teens (and many adults for that matter) have trouble judging the credibility of information they encounter online. The research showed, for instance, that most middle school students surveyed couldn’t distinguish between an advertisement and a news story on, even though the advertisement was labeled “sponsored content.” Most high schoolers didn’t note the source of a photograph of wilted daisies when determining whether it showed evidence of the effects of nuclear radiation.

The MediaWise curriculum will aim to improve young people’s “civic online reasoning,” a skill that can be developed by asking questions of all news offerings like “Who’s behind the information?” “What’s the evidence?” and “What do other sources say?” The Stanford History Education Group has already developed such resources for teachers.

“Our research has shown that students need help navigating the sea of digital information that they encounter every day,” said Sam Wineburg, founder of the Stanford History Education Group.

To that end, Poynter will put teens to work as fact-checkers charged with debunking misinformation with the help of professional journalists who will guide lessons in sorting out fact from fiction. The Poynter-owned International Fact-Checking Network and PolitiFact will collaborate on the project as well.

The work of the teen fact-checkers will be promoted on several online and social media platforms, using graphics and other creative means to reach teens wherever they get their news.

The Local Media Association, with newspaper, TV, radio, and digital news site members totaling 2,800, will work with Poynter and Stanford to bring the curriculum into communities across the country through education programs and news coverage.

Several YouTube stars with followers in the millions, including The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, who happens to run the popular educational YouTube Channel CrashCourse, have agreed to share this project with their audiences as well.

“At, we’re focused on developing the next generation of diverse technology creators but we know that coding skills or even digital savviness is not enough,” said Jacquelline Fuller, president of the tech giant’s charitable arm.

Google announced that in addition to the MediaWise initiative, the company would spend $300 million over the next three years to boost news subscriptions at reputable outlets and crack down on fake news using a number of other strategies.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.