Review by Amy Lauren Botula, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2019

Truth or Fiction?

Foil fake news and viral rumors with fact-checking site

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
9–12
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Pros: Tackles both news and viral rumors.

Cons: No classroom- or student-specific supports.

Bottom Line: This can be a handy reference -- and a good model for critical thinking -- but it'll require some teacher scaffolding and guidance.

Truth or Fiction? would be a good fit for journalism, ELA, or social studies classes. Teachers can use it to demonstrate the process of fact-checking and critical thinking about articles, memes, and social media posts. After a teacher-led introduction and some time for exploration, task students with locating a popular post or news story they're curious about on Truth or Fiction?. Have them dig into the fact-check, and follow the process of teasing apart the story's veracity. Afterward, student's can perform a live walkthrough of Truth or Fiction?'s fact-check, visiting external sources and showing the comparison between credible information and what's presented in the original story or post. After students get familiar with the process, challenge them to catalog any questionable stories or posts they come across in the wild, and then have them record a video walkthrough of their own fact-checking process, making sure to think out loud as they go.

Truth or Fiction? is particularly useful for more self-directed students. Though it's organized by the tabs "Fact Checks," "Fake News," "Politics," "Viral Content," "Analysis," and "Reporting," many of the articles overlap and appear in more than one tab, so there is no wrong way to engage. Teachers could assign independent work, focusing on a specific kind of story -- perhaps politics -- and then ask students to track patterns of misinformation and propaganda techniques within that category. After they've looked at a couple of different types of stories, students can compare and contrast the ways mis/disinformation is employed.

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Truth or Fiction? is a non-partisan site staffed by a team of journalists (and one former editor of Snopes) dedicated to debunking information filling our inboxes and social media feeds. There's a a useful focus -- as opposed to some competitors -- on viral content like opinionated news and inspirational, humorous, and shocking stories. The stories are timely, ranging from the political (e.g., Chuck Schumer's presumed history of being in favor of a border wall) to cultural (e.g., whether Ariana Grande's tattoo really does translate to "charcoal grill"), and they're supported by a thorough contextualization and verification or debunking of the story. Each fact-check includes three sections: Claim, Rating, and Reporting. Of these, the Reporting section offers the most opportunities for learning, including key terms, historical references, and related sources. 

With its extensive reporting and analysis of the stories we so freely circulate, Truth or Fiction? clearly answers the oft-asked student question "But why does this matter?" No one likes to be duped, students especially, and one quick click on any tab or headline will show students how easily facts are manipulated. For instance, a recent entry traces a popular Facebook post from after the 2019 State of the Union address showing an image of German women dressed in white and giving the Nazi salute with the caption "The League of Nazi Socialist women who supported Hitler's dream of a socialist paradise. They always went to public events dressed in white." The post was meant to draw a connection to Nancy Pelosi's State of the Union attire: a white suit. The hyperlink-heavy and graphics-rich analysis that follows traces the origin of the image and concludes that the women in the photo were a group of Nazi sympathizers, though not under that name and with no connection to socialism. Furthermore, Pelosi was wearing white in honor of the women's suffrage movement. By following along with this fact-check, students learn how viral content and misinformation misappropriates history, makes false associations, and forwards a biased agenda. The associated links to credible information help students become familiar with where to find more trustworthy info they can rely upon in their daily lives. Along the way, they might also get inspired to look into some of the references -- like the women's suffrage movement -- that will expand their knowledge base.

Still, teachers need to be aware that this site wasn't designed for classrooms. There are no lesson plans or activities, it's full of links to social media, and it's lacking supports for students of differing abilities. And yet, this remains a useful site to add to a broader list of fact-checking resources, and with some scaffolding and teacher guidance, students can gain some key critical thinking skills.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The design resembles a news blog, and there's a nice balance of text and imagery. The fact-checking of celebrity rumors and viral rumors will likely connect with students, but they might have a harder time with political news.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Each news story -- whether political or from pop culture -- is well-considered with helpful references. Since it's for a general audience, there's not much specific to classrooms or learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

It's text-heavy and cluttered. Emerging readers could be frustrated. Screen readers will struggle with the lack of alternative text (alt text) on some images. Text can be resized, but it gets squished between the menu bars.


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