Morning Reading: Vetting the News

Learning to assess sources has always been critical. In the age of the internet, it became even more important. And today? Absolutely imperative.

Here’s some material that we’ve found that can help both students and educators develop this vital skill.

From Common Sense Media, a guide directed at parents and guardians that also includes a list of tips for older kids.

Older kids especially might enjoy learning tricks to spot fake news. Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Look for unusual URLs, including those that end with “lo” or “.com.co” — these are often trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but they aren’t.
  • Look for signs of low quality, such as words in all caps, headlines with glaring grammatical errors, bold claims with no sources, and sensationalist images (women in bikinis are popular clickbait on fake news sites). These are clues that you should be skeptical of the source.
  • Check a site’s “About Us” section. Find out who supports the site or who is associated with it. If this information doesn’t exist — and if the site requires that you register before you can learn anything about its backers — you have to wonder why they aren’t being transparent.
  • Check Snopes, Wikipedia, and Google before trusting or sharing news that seems too good (or bad) to be true.
  • Consider whether other credible, mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news. If they’re not, it doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it does mean you should dig deeper.
  • Check your emotions. Clickbait and fake news strive for extreme reactions. If the news you’re reading makes you really angry or super smug, it could be a sign that you’re being played. Check multiple sources before trusting.

From NPR, Steve Inskeep presents A Finder’s Guide to Facts. This article is appropriate for high school and above, and it presents a thesis ready for analysis and debate (emphasis ours):

Are we really in a post-truth era? Somebody on the Internet said so. Many people,actually…

But let’s properly define the problem. History and experience tell me it’s not a post-truth era: Facts have always been hard to separate from falsehoods, and political partisans have always made it harder. It’s better to call this a post-trust era.

There’s also a thorough list of questions for readers to ask themselves when approaching a source, including “Does the news source appear to employ editors?” and “Did the writer engage with anyone who disagrees?” And there’s room for student discussion here, too: for example, does every issue deserve to have both sides presented? Should we dismiss sources without editors immediately, or just proceed with additional caution?

 

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