Real News v. Fake News: Teach Your Children to Know the Difference

Fake news.  This phrase, popularized by our current president, has become a part of our national cultural vernacular.  No matter what your political inclinations, the idea the "fake news" exists, and even worse, informs and influences voters, has become a relevant and necessary conversation.  News broadcasting agencies have taken to advertising that their news is real and unsullied.  Newscasters, who at the least take liberty with news stories and, at worst, embellish or falsify news stories, are suspended or fired. Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and CEO of Facebook, has acknowledged the fact that Facebook is working to prevent the proliferation of "fake" stories such as the Russia-linked ads and stories that surfaced during the 2016 presidential election.
Researchers from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education have recently completed a report stating, "Overall, young people's ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak." (Wineburg, 4) In the midst of this national conversation, we are asking ourselves how we can teach our children to glean what is true and authentic from the piles of trash masquerading as truth online and in social media.  Here are a few things to teach your children (and yourself) on keeping it real.
  • Skip social media and look for primary sources. Primary sources, also known as original sources, are artifacts, documents, diaries, manuscripts, autobiographies, newspaper clippings, audio recordings, or videos created at the time under study.  Documentaries, for example, are terrific examples of using primary resources to tell a story.  Is there a current debate on the second amendment? How about finding a copy of the Bill of Rights?  Then seek out secondary sources, such as a scholarly article, to aid in interpreting the primary source.
  • Check out who published the news you're reading.  Is it published by a reputable source?  Is it published by a news organization or a political group? Is someone funding the publication, and if so, who?
  • Teach your children what propaganda is and what it looks like. Is the "news" sponsored through advertising? Are there claims in the story that are opinions posing as facts? Have your kids ask themselves, "What do these advertisers have to gain by me believing this story?"
  • Is the tone of the "news" highly charged or sensational? Often times, fake stories with agendas to undermine someone or something have a highly sensational tone. Does the "story" begin with provocative words like Things they don't want you to know? Is the headline in all CAPS
  • Develop a healthy cynicism. Teach your children to question what they hear and read.  Crosscheck "news" with trusted sources.
Gleaning truth from anywhere in culture is a fundamentally necessary skill that all children must learn.  Where is truth in the stories they read?  Or the piece of art they are viewing?  Or the Netflix series they are watching?  Is the meme real that claims that Abraham Lincoln said something inspirational about cats?  How can you find out?  I am not at all being hyperbolic when I say that the future of our democracy and our culture at large depends upon teaching our children to work and fight to find truth in the murky sea of falsehoods and lies.  We as adults could stand to remember that as well.  We are voting on lawmakers and judges who will set the course of our country for ages to come.  Let's learn alongside our children to desire truth and how to seek truth.
Wineburg, Sam and McGrew, Sarah and Breakstone, Joel and Ortega, Teresa. (2016). Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: