Teaching Students To Verify Sources On The Internet
A few years ago the only place you had to worry about reading fake news was in line at the grocery store where you could always count on an array of tabloid magazines trying to top one another with the craziest headlines.
Now, though, in a world where most of our information comes from the internet, readers need to be constantly evaluating the reliability of what they are reading. Students, in particular, can be too trusting of what they read, assuming that if it’s been published online, it must be true.
As teachers, it is our responsibility to equip students with the tools they need to verify sources and feel confident in determining what websites and articles are to be trusted (and which ones are clearly bogus). Read on for some simple tips to help students recognize red flags of fake news and biased information.
Identify the publication
Good readers know that before digging into a text, whether it’s an article or a novel, it’s worth knowing who wrote it. Knowing a little bit about an author will help shed light on where he or she is coming from, and what his or her relationship is to the topic at hand.
Lots of what we find on the internet isn’t attributed to an author, so students need to be thinking about what group or organization is disseminating this information.
How do you know if a publication is reliable? Guide students to start by looking for an “About Us” section on a website where you can find out more about what the organization is and how long they’ve been around. Another good tip is that generally, websites ending in .org, .edu, and .gov tend to be reliable, while .com domains are more variable.
Students must be taught to approach unknown digital texts with a mindset that they are on the hunt for false information. Instead of reading passively, students need to read actively – constantly checking information they are reading against their prior knowledge.
If a source tells that our planet is getting cooler, or that George Washington was president in1970 instead of 1790, students must be reading critically to catch these mistakes and evaluate how reliable a source really is or what biases it might have.
Look for references
Depending on what sort of text students are reading, there are likely to be references if it is reputable. References might be listed at the end in academic texts, hyperlinked throughout for news publications, or even embedded as interview questions or quotes.
Either way, if an author is using specific facts or making bold claims, they should be citing where their information is coming from.
If you are getting all of your information from one source, you might only be getting one side of a story. When doing research or reading up on a new topic, encourage students to read similar articles from multiple sources. Students will surprised how many discrepancies exist between conservative or liberal news sources, even when covering the exact same event or topic. Get students into the habit of reading from a variety of reputable sources before they draw conclusions from what they’ve read.
Pay attention to word choice
Even if a source is reliable, that does not mean that it is automatically void of bias. One way to teach students to identify bias is by looking at word choice. Does the author use words that paint one individual, group, or idea in a particularly positive or negative light? Take the sentences, “the governor stated he was innocent” and “the governor claimed he was innocent”.
The word claimed suggests that maybe the governor was guilty, hinting that the author might have a bias against the governor. One or two loaded words don’t necessarily imply bias, but students need to learn to look for patterns in word choice that might indicate prejudice.
Instill these habits in your students and they will be well on their way to becoming more responsible and thoughtful consumers of digital media – a skill that will serve them for a lifetime!
If you need help, check out our course Internet Search Activities, which teaches students not only how to search effectively online, but also how to cross-check and verify what they find.