In the aftermath of recent global electoral developments, it’s clear that the way we interpret and synthesize news is important. Britain’s exit from the European Union and the election of Donald Trump are two of the most recognized examples, but fake news and the spread of state-sponsored inaccurate news has led to a geopolitical shift not seen in a generation. Journalistic precedent around reporting facts has also changed. We first heard the term “alternative facts” last week in response to Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about inaugural crowd size.

State-sponsored media is not new but its channels for distribution have intensified the pace at which inaccurate stories travel. Similarly, its online communities and comment spaces have altered the way news is discussed and evaluated. According to a Study from Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of the news shared on social media has never been read. This has harmful implications for students who spend up to eight hours per day at the computer.


Media Literacy

In K-12, media literacy is an anchor standard of the CCSS and a component of most state standards. Yet, the implementation of a media literacy curriculum has proven challenging. A recently published study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education reveals that 82% of middle and high school students could not distinguish between sponsored content, also called native advertisements, and a real news story on a website.

In order for students to become proficient consumers of news, they should look to professional fact checkers for insight. They should rigorously research the organization sponsoring the content, the author and then ask themselves a series of probing questions: Who funds the organization? Was the author published in other respected publications? Is it well informed and authoritative? Can you find the same ideas across other respected media sources? Urge your students to engage in lateral reading and rigorous fact checking.

Here are things your students can look for when evaluating a news story.

  • Domain Name – Does the story’s domain contain a country code instead of .com? This can be an indicator that you are looking at a fake news source.
  • Contact Us Page – Many legitimate news sites contain a “contact us” page. Sites that lack a “contact us” page should be questioned. Students who visit sites without a contact us page should proceed cautiously.
  • Advertisements – Many fake news sites contain ads for questionable content or products that do not appear on most legitimate news sources.  Keep an eye out for the kind of advertisements that are shown on the page.


Fake News Versus Wrong Facts

Students need to understand that there are now people and organizations in the U.S. and in other countries making up stories and creating false websites to promote these “news” stories. And there are also reporters who make legitimate mistakes and get the facts wrong. In one case, the intent is to deceive, the other it’s an honest mistake that legitimate news organizations will admit to and make a public correction.

At Listenwise, it is our mission is to inspire tomorrow’s citizens by connecting their education to what is happening in the world around them by harnessing the power of listening. NPR has a trusted and venerable history of journalistic integrity. All content found on Listenwise is sourced from the sphere of public radio and any inaccurate facts are retracted and changed.

We empathize with the challenges of finding appropriate content to drive most important discussions. That’s why we have curated three stories on fake news, which is only the start of an ongoing series covering this topic. Working with students to critically evaluate the accuracy, meaning, and power of informational text has never been more important.

Listen to these stories with your class and start a discussion on fake news:

Here are some great stories from the Huffington Post, Slate, Teen Vogue, and The Washington Post about how educators can teach current events in a world of ‘alternative facts.’ If you are searching for further resources to help discuss with your class Teaching Tolerance is always a great resource to check out.

Are you using other strategies to discuss fake news with your students? What challenges are you facing? We want to hear from you! Please share your insights with us in comments below or at