*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on The Wall Street Journal.
Preteens and teens may appear dazzlingly fluent, flitting among social-media sites, uploading selfies and texting friends. But they’re often clueless about evaluating the accuracy and trustworthiness of what they find.
Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college. The study is the biggest so far on how teens evaluate information they find online. Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source.
More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help. And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.
Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google recently announced they are taking steps to prevent sites that disseminate fake news from using their advertising platforms, and Twitter Inc. is moving to curb harassment by users. But that won’t get rid of false or biased information online, which comes from many sources, including deceptive advertising, satirical websites and misleading partisan posts and articles.
A growing number of schools are teaching students to be savvy about choosing and believing various information sources, a skill set educators label “media literacy.” A free Stanford social-studies curriculum that teaches students to judge the trustworthiness of historical sources has been downloaded 3.5 million times, says Sam Wineburg, a professor in Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and the lead author of the study on teens.
However, fewer schools now have librarians, who traditionally taught research skills. And media literacy has slipped to the margins in many classrooms, to make room for increased instruction in basic reading and math skills.
Devorah Heitner, author of “Screenwise” and founder of Raising Digital Natives, an Evanston, Ill., provider of consulting services to schools, suggests parents pick up on their children’s interests and help them to find and evaluate news on the topic online. Encourage them to read a variety of sources. For small children, Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit, lists browsers and search sites that are safe for children, including KidzSearch.com and KidsClick.org.
Source: The Wall Street Journal