doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Now, more than ever

Unless you’ve been totally offline, you are undoubtedly aware of the rise of “news stories” where the truth value can range from truthful, kinda close to facts, to outright false content.

The recent US elections has completely elevated this phenomenon.

Some reporting on the fake news just makes me shudder.

This is a fascinating read to take a look inside the spread of such stories.

Now, the concept of media literacy isn’t something that’s new.  It’s something that good computer resource people, teacher-librarians, and others in the know have warned us about for years.

In the beginning, it was relatively simple to spot something false.  I’ve collected a number of resources over the years to illustrate the point.

We’ve used these quite bit with students to help build the skills to determine whether or not something that they read online is to be believed.  Most teachers work on this concept with students to help them sharpen and refine their BS detectors.  It’s easy to extrapolate the “Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus” campaign to our new reality and some of the things that we see today.  But writers have become more sophisticated and trickier in their approach.

It’s easy to speculate why – hoaxes and mistaken things have been around forever.  Who hasn’t heard of the War of the Worlds?  But we live in escalating times.  As we’ve seen, it could be to promote a political agenda, it could be misunderstanding the facts, or it could be that a news reporter has to meet a deadline and so whips something up.  There are probably more reasons but that doesn’t make any of them more palatable or justify their existence to any sane person.

Then, there’s the Facebook deal.  I can recall when services like Compuserve were your one stop location for everything.  I suspect that Facebook wants to be that same sort of thing.  Why have multiple stops for information when you can get it all in one spot?  It’s a great business plan.  But it has to be beyond reproach.

Now, I don’t turn to Facebook as my primary news provider.  (there goes my account)  But, stories can be intrusive and catch my attention.  In my hotel room this past weekend, I was sharing some things with my wife and my eye caught this.

The title and image had just about enough truthful ring to catch my attention.  As my eyes moved down, I saw the source of the story.  I’d never heard of that site before but my knowledge of the online world is so small compared to the big collection of everything.  Then, my BS detector clicked in.  I knew that if I clicked through, I’d get the whole story as written and my computer might get some other things.  So, I turned to my trusted news resources – CBC, CTV, MSNBC, CNN for a verification before trying the link.  Not even a hint of this story.

Needless to say, I didn’t click through.  But I wonder how many people did…

  • they could take Facebook’s approval that it was a legitimate story
  • they could be looking for exactly that sort of “dirt” story
  • they might be political junkies looking for anything political
  • take your best guess as to motive

In the classroom though, it’s a real concern.  What if some student runs into this sort of “research” and uses it as the basis for a paper?

Maybe this is good news – Facebook reportedly testing new tool to combat fake news

I think we all know and realise that media literacy and teaching students and others how to spot things that are less than truthful is an important part of being connected.  Talk to your teacher-librarian for hints and resources.

We need it now, more than ever.


Please share your thoughts here. I’d enjoy reading them.

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