A Stanford University study has documented what South Park told Americans a year ago – students can’t tell the difference between real and fake news.
Granted, what is “real” and what is “fake” news is the subject of intense debate even among adults (and college professors), and advertisers and partisan hacks don’t make finding the truth obvious. But the study’s findings show that the vast majority of teens don’t possess (or utilize) the necessary skills to evaluate the accuracy and trustworthiness of what they’re reading. The Wall Street Journal reports that the study found:
Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college.
Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source.
More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help
And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.
Supposedly these same middle-schoolers and high-school students are taking classes which require them to write research papers – and teach the differences between an opinion paper and a research paper. If so, it’s baffling that so many students can look at an internet news story and not think to look at the potential bias of the site or the writer, or the quantity and types of sources cited.
But then again, we’re at a place in history where people have to post “Not The Onion” before sharing a ridiculous news post, and where even reputable outfits such as RedState are classified as “fake news” sites.