Even teens fooled by online ‘news’

From an editorial in The Dallas Morning News on Thursday:

The recent presidential election made one thing quite clear. Americans from all across the political spectrum struggle to separate reliable information and informed opinion from made-up facts and intentionally misleading perspectives.

Even so, it comes as a mild surprise to learn that even so-called digital natives – young people entirely at ease in the internet’s ocean of information – often have no idea that what they are reading or viewing is intentionally misleading, or produced by hyper-partisan proselytizers.

A new study by researchers at Stanford University has found that the confusion among middle school, high school and even college students is profound.

The study, which tested responses to various “news” items and photographs posted to the internet, involved thousands of students and was conducted over several months during the run-up to last month’s election.

Turns out, 80 percent of middle schoolers weren’t able to recognize “sponsored content” as advertising, rather than journalism.

And college students presented with tweets touting poll results critical of the NRA seemed unsure how to vet the poll’s accuracy, or even where to start.

Teenagers and college students are among the heaviest internet users, and overwhelmingly prefer to get their news through a social media feed, rather than rely on trusted editors to sort through the good and the bad.

That makes it essential that they are taught to evaluate the reliability of news content themselves. It’s a skill set that many adults could stand some practice on, too.

Part of the solution can start at home, where parents’ influence is strongest on younger children just starting out on the internet. Perhaps a lesson or two on how to vet sources of news and opinion would be helpful.