Summary

Daniel Leblanc describes measures to be taken by Google to educate young Canadians on the importance of news and trustworthy sources of information.  In another article entitled, “Teens are avid consumers of news online, research suggests,” (August 9, 2017) Simon Houpt reports on the prevailing tendency among teens to use online news sources and how the web has responded with youth-focused websites.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • How can we tell the difference between so-called fake news and actual news?

New Terminology:

Fake news, dissemination, cyber capabilities, digital platform, satire, post-millennials

Materials Needed:

Globe articles, the Internet

Learning Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

A new term entered our lexicon last year: fake news. Historically, newspapers and radio-TV news programs would often work an entire day to find the relevant facts behind a news story. Before publication or broadcast, journalists would be required to provide evidence to prove that the story was legitimate, that the facts were accurate and that more than one credible source was used to substantiate the story. Today, the Internet has made it possible to completely fabricate a story and post it as actual news for the world to see in minutes or less. Much of this kind of information, usually distributed via social media, has been correctly labelled, fake news. However, politicians have been using the term to apply to any story with which they disagree, or that casts them in an unfavourable light. The public is left wondering, “How can I tell if the news is accurate or fake?”

Mainstream media, such as newspapers and television news programs, are eager to help people—teenagers in particular—determine which news is fake and which accurately describes a news event. When it was revealed that Russian agents had put up thousands of fake Facebook postings, and that they were using these to push fabricated stories about politicians—primarily about the Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—Facebook and Google decided to take action. Google Canada has announced it is spending $500,000 on the “NewsWise” project. It is being organized by CIVIX, the organization behind Student Vote, and the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

To be responsible citizens, nothing is more important than for students to learn who and what to believe about news stories. Students can benefit from a lesson in which they begin to answer the question: How can we tell the difference between fake news and actual news?

Students will work in groups on two sets of tasks. They will report orally at the end of class and complete a short personal essay as homework.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Find out what students already know about fake news.
  • Ask for examples of fake news, and probe to see how they have determined what is fake and what is not.
  • Lead a short discussion about the importance of having reliable facts and information. For example, ask how one is supposed to make a reliably informed choice about who to vote for, or what to believe about a person in the news.
  • Organize students into groups and provide each group with one of two sets of task sheets. They are to complete these using one of the articles provided, as well as the occasional use of the Internet.

Task Sheet #1

  • Using the article by Simon Houpt, as well as the Internet, complete the following tasks. Elect a note-taker, and be prepared to present your group’s work orally at the end of the lesson.
  • Elect a group leader. Have members of your group take turns reading aloud the article that suggests teens are avid consumers of online news.
  • How well does the article describe members of your group, relative to their use of online news sources? Poll the group to see who regularly reads news online.
  • List all the online sources your group tends to use, such as Snapchat, Facebook, etc.
  • Define fake news. If it is fake news, is it really news at all, or is it better described as lies, half-truths or fantasy?
  • What is the difference between fake news and satire?
  • Ask students to give examples of fake news. How did they determine the news was fake?
  • Ask how each group member determines what to believe and what they think is fake news. Are they more likely to believe a story that attacks a person they don’t like, or do they take the same care to find out if the story is accurate?
  • List the ways you can determine whether a story you read online is fake or not. How many of your group members regularly use fact-checking sites, such as Hoaxslayer or Snopes? Ask why they use them or not, and whether they trust them.
  • Which do they think is more likely to be fake news: 1) a newspaper story; 2) a television news report; or 3) a posting on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat?
  • Finally, poll the group to see who thinks students could benefit from learning more about how to consume news and how to determine what is real and what is fake.

Task Sheet #2

  • Elect a group leader. Using the article by Daniel Leblanc, as well as the Internet, complete the following. Elect a note-taker, and be prepared to present your group’s work orally at the end of the lesson.
  • List all the online sources your group tends to use, such as Snapchat, Facebook, etc.
  • Define fake news. If it is fake news, is it really news at all, or is it better described as lies, half-truths or fantasy?
  • Ask students to give examples of fake news. How did they determine the news was fake?
  • What is the difference between fake news and satire?
  • Ask how each group member determines what to believe and what you think is fake news. Are they more likely to believe a story that attacks a person they don’t like, or do they take the same care to find out if the story is accurate?
  • List the ways you can determine whether a story you read online is fake or not. How many of your group members regularly use fact-checking sites, such as Hoaxslayer or Snopes? Ask why they use them or not, and whether they trust them.
  • Which do they think is more likely to be fake news: 1) a newspaper story; 2) a television news report; or 3) a posting on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat?
  • Have members of your group take turns reading aloud the article that describes the new NewsWise Project for schools.
  • Discuss the NewsWise project:
  • Do you think it is a worthwhile project? Why or why not?
  • Would you participate in the NewsWise project, if it were offered in your school?
  • Describe Facebook’s proposed Election Integrity Initiative. Do you support the idea or not? Give reasons.
  • Assign the following for homework: Write a paragraph or two about one time when you believed a story online—about anyone in any context—that you learned later was not true. Describe the process you used to determine the story was false and how you felt when you learned the truth.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have finished their worksheets, engage them in a general discussion about their work. Compare and contrast their answers and see if you can achieve a class consensus on the importance of combating fake news.
Success

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe a basic process through which they can determine which news is factual and which is not.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on current news that has been found to be fake.