Most young people can't distinguish between a fake news story and a legitimate source, a fake Twitter account and a real one, or an advertisement or the article it's contained within. This according to a new study released by Stanford University today.
According to lead author Sam Wineburg and his co-researchers, youth across a wide range of ages from middle school to college underperform at identifying false information contained in websites, social media, and news reporting.
An assessment had middle school students look at the homepage of Slate to see if they could distinguish between paid content and legitimate news reporting. Of the 203 students surveyed, more than 80 percent believed a native ad, identified with the words "sponsored content," was a real news story.
College age students didn't fare much better. Evaluating website credibility, college students paid much more attention to high production values, links to legitimate news sources, and a polished "about" page, rather than the content of the site.
I'm truly not surprised by these findings, from conversations I have with our teens we work with in the Bay Area, where one might imagine that teens are immersed in social media and feel quite comfortable navigating through multiple sources of information. Even here, they feel lost in trying to assess the validity of a source. Still, it's sobering how widespread this is.
In this political moment we find ourselves in, an educated and media savvy populace is more important than ever. It is literally life and death for our society and our world. So our job as media educators is critical to our democracy and the planet.
POSTSCRIPT NOVEMBER 27
I found this piece on Medium helpful in instructing young people — and all people — how to differentiate fake news from real.