Digital literacy and fake news.

Fake news is a new phrase. Especially since the American Presidential election last year, the idea of news made entirely to suit a political agenda has appeared more and more often on social media and in traditional news outlets. This article by the Independent suggests that children are finding it difficult to discern which stories are fake, and so the number of calls to NSPCC about concerns over world events have risen. But there is a bigger issue than children – young people who we perhaps would not expect to be at an age where they can detect bias – not knowing if a story is “real”. Many older teens and young adults struggling with literacy issues lack this skill too.

News articles – even those that based in real news – always have a slight bias. And while it may be common knowledge which side of the political spectrum well known journals swing to, the huge number of growing online journalism forums is not so easy to define.

Which leaves people with lower levels of literacy vulnerable to groups trying to publish messages that would be frowned upon by mainstream media. Without the ability to detect bias, if everything is taken at face value, some of our young people and low literacy adults are open to exploitation.

So what’s the practical way to address this? How can we do this in lessons and functional skills courses? Bias is a key part of the syllabus at GCSE and at functional skills level 2, but what about learners working at a lower level than that?

I think for me the key is questioning. What is the article saying? Where did it come from? Who wrote it and can you google that person to get a better idea of their intentions in writing the text? What other sorts of articles appear on the same site?

Questioning what we read, even if we don’t automatically recognise the bias, makes us much less likely to get sept up in fake – and sometimes dangerous – news.

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