Internet privacy

Real things teachers can do to combat fake news

We’ve all picked up a smartphone and clicked on a viral story on social media  — or felt overwhelmed and exhausted by an onset of news. A new study shows that in certain circumstances, everyone is susceptible to sharing less-than-truthful online content. So what can you do to combat “fake news”? And how do we help kids get savvy about what they’re reading?

You can start by not lumping all dubious content into one category called fake news, says Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director at the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE).

At NAMLE’s bi-annual conference in Chicago held in late June, Ciulla Lipkin explained to PBS NewsHour how teachers and librarians can help young people figure out which news sources are reliable, how to understand the role of bias in the media — as well as our own personal biases — and why kids are “hypocrisy radars” when it comes to adults telling them to put down their phones.

NewsHour viewers and educators submitted questions on media literacy, which we share in short videos in this post, along with additional questions below. Check here to watch the full interview.

Has the rise of the term “fake news” helped or hurt media literacy?
–Chris Heffernan, social science and math teacher, Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois

The term “fake news” has called attention to the need for media literacy to the general public in a way that nothing has before. In that way, it has been effective in spreading the importance and urgency of media literacy. However, the term “fake news” is incredibly limiting and simplifies a complex information ecosystem in an ineffective way. The “fake news” conversation puts information into two buckets: fact and fiction. Information is much more nuanced and complicated. The fake news conversation does not allow for detailed discussion about bias, credibility, opinion, journalism, advertising and the structure of the news industry. We need a broad look at the media landscape and information ecosystem in order to do effective media literacy education.

Can teachers compete in the era of fake news and alternative facts? What are some tips to help teachers combat those issues?
–James Caudill, middle school history and geography teacher, Owensboro, Kentucky

I think the use of the word “compete” is really interesting here. It’s so important that you and all teachers recognize your vital role in helping students navigate the flow of information. Your role is more important than ever. I want to see fake news compete against teachers and lose!

We need to be willing to explore current events through the lens of multiple sources, including ones that are misleading. We need to break them down and do deep analysis with our students. We need to teach our students to ask questions about all information flowing their way. We also should look back over history and explore the history of fake news to give our students context. The concept of fake news is not new, and students should understand when fake news appeared in history and why.

What are your recommendations for sorting out resources to rely on? I feel like resources for validity on an individual story are there, but how do you approach students who trust new nontraditional sources of delivery and new nontraditional sources of information?
–Greg Oppel, 12th grade social studies teacher, Edmond, Oklahoma

There is no doubt that students choose to get their “news” and “information” from nontraditional sources. This needs to be embraced in the classroom. It’s important the contemporary sources are explored and analyzed. It is also important for students not to feel that their method of getting information is “wrong” or “ineffective.”

Bring social media into the classroom. Explore where they are getting their information. Compare those sources with traditional sources. Investigate current events through a wide array of sources. We are going to see a growing reliance on nontraditional sources of information. We need to teach our students to navigate, assess, and evaluate them. And, of course, don’t ever forget the power of media creation to teach lessons about sources and creation of news. There is nothing more powerful than giving students a chance to create their own media to teach them key concepts such as credibility.

What’s an effective way to enable students to identify appeals to logic versus appeals to emotion?
–Jacqueline McCarthy, AP Government and economics teacher, High Point Regional High School, Sussex, New Jersey

This is a really important question, especially when the great majority of information appeals to emotion first. Effective media literacy education is about teaching students habits of inquiry. On our website (, we offer some key questions for analyzing media messages. We can teach our students to ask questions such as:

  • Why was this made?
  • What does this want me to do?
  • How does this make me feel and how do my emotions interpretation of this?
  • What values, information, and points of view are overt? Implied?

And then we can start to analyze and evaluate the way most media messages seek to create an emotional response.

Another great way is to explore propaganda in the classroom and compare overt propaganda with more subtle forms of propaganda. Mind Over Media is a great website to use.

What are some essential questions students should be exploring in a media literacy course?
–Jose Reyes, 6-12 humanities supervisor and former high school English teacher, Marlborough Public Schools, Mass.

On our website, we offer some key questions for analyzing media messages. You can use these key questions whether you are exploring a cereal commercial or a Washington Post article or a full length film.

In my classroom at Brooklyn College, I find the following questions elicit incredible conversation:

  • What is missing from this message?
  • How might different people interpret this message differently?
  • Is this fact, opinion, or something else?