It might have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago, but in 2018 a piece of fake news can be fabricated and spread around the world in the blink of an eye. On average, a false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker than a true one does, according to a global study by Science Magazine.
Of course the impact this has on major events like elections is of huge significance, but there’s also another concern to grapple with.
What happens to a generation who are brought up on a diet of information full of the artificial sugars and saturated fats of spurious headlines and false facts?
In our research Technology in a Transforming Britain, we found that while over half (57%) of the British public say that technology enables new ways of learning, not everyone is confident about this. In fact, two-fifths of the British public are anxious about technology’s impact on media and the way it enables people to access fake news and incorrect information.
The need to prepare the next generation for today’s media climate is becoming ever more urgent. So how can we go about doing this?
Our Ambassador Programme helps young people build digital skills and develop an awareness of technology – but this comes with a responsibility to educate them on the potential for technology to do harm. Here are some steps educational establishments can consider taking when getting fake news on the curriculum.
1. All in a name
There is something very powerful about giving a phenomenon a name. It’s a way to identify it, to mark it out in people’s minds. Being able to name something in the classroom enables you to spot it out in the world.
To identify “fake news”, young people need to understand how “real” news is designed to inform, while fake news is usually designed to mislead and/or mobilise people behind a cause without regards for the truth.
2. Spot the difference
Taking real examples of credible news, satire, and fake news and comparing how they are written, what kind of sources they use, and what message they are trying to impart can help young people differentiate between what is real and fake.
3. The pretenders
In the digital age there are many underhand methods to spread fake news – for example, imitating a real news site to trick people into thinking it’s the real deal. This could take the form of a URL which closely echoes a well-known publication, or a very similar website design. Web-savvy digital natives are well placed to spot these kind of tricks, but it’s worth raising awareness.
4. Making it social
Many social media platforms essentially treat all media as undifferentiated “content”, which makes it hard to distinguish between fake and credible news. As young people tend to be avid social media users, it’s important to discuss how it works and how it can (however unknowingly) enable the spread of fake news.
Often, fake news is based on misinformation, dubious studies from politically motivated sources, or deliberate misinterpretation of the facts. Teaching students to follow the dots can help them spot the difference. Moreover, showing them websites such as Snopes.com, which helps to fact check stories, arms students with the tools to do so relatively easily.
Businesses have a responsibility to help nurture the minds of the next generation. Organisations need, after all, minds that can critically analyse information, especially as the pace of technological change accelerates.
Taking on fake news is just one of a number of steps business can take to help prepare young people for the future. But how?
They could look to lend their own expertise to explore some of the mechanisms that enable fake news to spread on the internet – particularly from a technological standpoint. They can also use this technical capacity to help schools understand these elements themselves.
This will prepare the next generation to cope with fake news – so eventually they can build a world without it.
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