With so much information on the web -- true, false, and everything in between -- it’s no wonder students have a hard time separating fact from fiction.
Our students use the web every day -- shouldn't we expect them to do better at interpreting what they read there? Perhaps … but not necessarily. Often, stereotypes about kids and technology can get in the way of what's at stake in today's complex media landscape. Sure, our students probably joined Snapchat faster than we could say "Face Swap," but that doesn't mean they're any better off at interpreting what they see in the news and on the web.
As teachers, we've probably seen students use questionable sources in our own classrooms, and a recent study from the Stanford History Education Group confirms it: Students today are generally pretty bad at evaluating the news and other information they see online. Now more than ever, our students need our help. And a big part of this is learning how to fact-check what they see on the web.
The web can also be our students' best tool in the fight against falsehood.
In a lot of ways, the web is a fountain of misinformation. But the web also can be our students' best tool in the fight against falsehood. An important first step is giving students trusted resources they can use to verify, or debunk, the information they find. Even one fact-checking activity could be an important first step toward empowering students to start seeing the web from a fact-checker's point of view.
Here's a list of fact-checking resources you and your students can use in becoming better web detectives:
(Download a student-friendly version here.)
A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, this nonpartisan, nonprofit organization states that it "aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics." The entries here cover TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Science teachers take note: The site includes a feature called "SciCheck," focusing on false and misleading scientific claims used for political influence. Beyond individual entries, there also are articles and videos that teachers might find helpful.
From the independent Tampa Bay Times, this site tracks who's telling the truth -- and who isn't -- in American politics. Updated daily, the site's entries fact-check statements made by elected officials, candidates, and pundits. Entries are rated on a scale ranging from "True" to "Pants on Fire" and include links to relevant sources to support each rating. Overall, the site's content is written for adult readers, and students may need teachers' help with context and direction.
This popular online resource is all about internet rumors. Fact-checked entries include everything from so-called urban legends all the way to politics and news stories. Teachers should know: There's a lot here, covering a variety of topics -- some of it potentially iffy for younger kids. It's a great resource for older students -- if you can keep them from getting distracted.
OpenSecrets.org is a nonpartisan organization that tracks the influence of money in U.S. politics. On the site, users can find informative tutorials on topics such as the basics of campaign finance -- not to mention the site's regularly updated data reports and analysis on where money has been spent in the American political system. While potentially useful for fact-finding, the site is clearly intended for more advanced adult readers and best left for older students and sophisticated readers.
This one isn't actually a fact-checking site. Instead, it's a tool you can use yourself to fact-check things you find online. Like an internet time machine, the site lets you see how a website looked, and what it said, at different points in the past. Want to see Google's home page from 1998? Yep, it's here. Want to see the New York Times' home page on just about any day since 1996? You can. While you won't find everything here, there's still a lot for students to discover. Just beware; the site can be a bit of a rabbit hole -- it's easy to get lost or distracted.
Want to take your students' knowledge of fact-checking a step further? Engage them in discussions around why these sites and organizations are seen as trusted (and why others might not be trusted as much). Together, look into how each site is funded, who manages it, and how it describes its own fact-checking process.
Give students this handy guide to fact-checking sites.
Download our cheat sheet for this article.