Watch | In an age of fake news, the non-profit News Literacy Project is helping kids figure out what to believe.
How to fix 'fake news'
After thousands of people shared deceptive articles online this election season, many have started to wonder how to fix the problem of so-called fake news.
It's a question that most in the media are just starting to reckon with, but the non-profit News Literacy Project (NPL) has been tackling it for the last eight years. And now, their program to teach public school kids how to recognize fact from fiction is popping up in schools across the country.
At Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland, English department chair Vickie Adamson teaches a version of the NPL's classroom curriculum, which attempts to get students to think about and critically evaluate the information they read online.
"We have found it invaluable to support our students and their critical sensibilities," Adamson told Circa. "News literacy helps students to always think, 'Where is this coming from? Is it balanced? Did I ask questions of everyone who was present and did I get all of those sides?'"
In the NPL's classroom curriculum students are taught lessons built on four pillars. Per the NPL:
- News matters.
- The First Amendment is vital to American democracy.
- Knowing the standards of quality journalism empowers students as consumers and creators.
- The current news and information landscape presents both great challenges and opportunities.
An online program, too
Last May, the NPL also debuted a new digital curriculum called the “checkology virtual classroom." Included are things like the "bias checker," which asks students to rate stories' balance, fairness, and neutral tone.
“It's now being used by over 700 teachers in 42 states to reach tens of thousands of students," Miller said. "We think that this is just the beginning of something that has great potential to reach exponentially more students in the months and years ahead.”
“Ten Questions For Fake News Detection” helps students figure out if they're being deceived.
'Journalism is being threatened'
Adamson, who has been teaching the classroom curriculum for the last five years, said she feels the lessons have always been important. But this year, she said, they feel just a little more urgent.
"I really do think that the conversations that I'm having with my students are more important now than ever because we seem to be in a time when journalism is being threatened," she said.
Fake news on the rise
Indeed, so-called "fake news" has spread at alarmingly high rates in the last year. At the end of the 2016 election, the top 20 fake news stories -- stories that were either deliberately fake or twisted for political gain -- actually outperformed real news.
This has had an impact on kids, too. A recent Stanford study found a "stunning and dismaying" inability among middle and high school students to tell real news from fake.
9 years of the NPL
But before the fake news phenomenon, the NPL was there. It was founded nearly nine years ago by Alan C. Miller, a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times.
“Long before anybody coined the term fake news, we were giving young people the tools to learn how to discern credible information from misinformation, opinion, propaganda and raw information," Miller told Circa.
More to be done
But Miller acknowledges more should be done if the fake news problem is to be totally eviscerated. He cited recent actions taken by Facebook to try and flag fake news as a positive step. He also said the organizations would welcome policy changes.
"We would certainly welcome any policy changes that would make news literacy and civics as well more of a fundamental requirement in the educational process," he said. "That would certainly be advantageous."