About half of the latest issue of my newsletter, Digital Education, concerned 'fake news'. I have been reading quite a lot of research about it, both here and in the USA, and summarised the main points as best I could. (To read it yourself, along with copious references and suggestions for further reading, sign up to the newsletter: it's free.)
What really stood out for me is not simply the finding that many people use social media as a source of news, or in some cases there only source of news. It's that many people who consume news in this way see no need to go to an actual news site. I'm not suggesting for a moment that news sites are bias-free, or even that their output is always completely grounded in fact. However, I do think one should at least make the effort to check whether a news story has some basis to it.
Now, Facebook's algorithms (to take an example I know about) decide what news it thinks you ought to see, and Google presents results based on what you've already searched for. All of which leads me to the conclusion that confirmation bias and groupthink are baked right into the whole process.
I know this is obvious, and I've thought it before, but it was only when I saw the stats (25% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 get their news from social media; two thirds of Facebook users use Facebook for news) that it really hit me.
It's all part of the 'post-truth' era, which the Oxford dictionary defines as:
‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
It seems to me that the best way that schools can attempt to combat this tendency to use social media for news is the same as it's always been. That is, create activities in which students have to use a variety of sources, and to be taught how to spot the inherent biases in each one. My article about a generic activity for dealing with fake news may help.
I suspect, however, that, again as always, it's easier said than done.