Study: Students find it hard to identify fake news online

There’s more fake news in the news, and it’s not encouraging.

Today’s youth may seem savvy because they can navigate the confusing Snapchat interface, carry on five different text conversations at once or put together an iMovie in no time. But a Stanford University study released this week says most of them find it hard to tell whether they’re reading fake news.

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” said Professor Sam Wineburg, lead author of the report and founder of the Stanford History Education Group, in a news release Tuesday. “Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

The Stanford study comes amid concerns about the proliferation of fake news on social media, and concerns that it helped propel Donald Trump to victory in the presidential election. But the study was begun in January 2015, before the recent soul-searching by Facebook, Google and others about fake news.

In a video explaining the study, Wineburg remarked that “you can look at many young people today and many of them have never held a physical newspaper. And so we encounter the world through bits and bytes.”

Among the study’s findings: More than 80 percent of middle-school students thought that content with the label “sponsored content” was real news; many high-schoolers could not distinguish between verified social-media sources (identified with a blue checkmark) and fake news sources; college students could be “swayed” by polished online sites with high production values.

How important are the findings? Well, the Wall Street Journal cites a 2015 study by the Media Insight Project that found that by age 18, 88 percent of young adults regularly get their news from Facebook and other social media. The Stanford researchers hope to demonstrate “the link between digital literacy and informed citizenship,” according to the news release.

The Stanford study involved more than 7,800 students from middle school through college, and was funded by a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Google announced recently that it is trying to keep fake news sites from using its ad platforms, and Facebook has updated its policy as well. In addition, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly addressed the issue, most recently sharing the steps the social network is taking to combat fake news.


Photo illustration of newspaper from KRT archives


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  • FightingSiouxMike

    Check out Breitbart for one week and decide for yourself.