Fake News – What is it really?

Since I am studying to be an elementary education teacher teaching digital literacy can be a challenge, especially when parents are wary of technology in general. But the only way children can be safe online and develop digital literacy is to steer them in the right direction instead of sheltering them from it and letting them fend for themselves once they inevitably enter the online world. A part of being digitally literate means being able to identify and combat what we know as “fake news”. When we think of fake news we tend to think of our southern neighbour’s president Mr Donald Trump (at least I do), but, what actually is fake news?

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According to Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis in Manipulation and Disinformation Online  ““Fake news” is a contested term, but generally refers to a wide range of disinformation and misinformation circulating online and in the media.” most people do not know this definition or understand it fully and simply think that fake news is anything that is well, fake. In reality, fake news or better yet, mis and disinformation, falls under a much broader spectrum. In fact, there are 7 types of “fake news” these being: satire/parody, misleading content,  imposter content, fabricated content, false connection, false context, and manipulated context. The key concept here is that not all fake news is actually fake. Confusing right? Well to put it simply, some of it is taken out of context, or some of it is created using a false connection and so forth. For this reason, the term mis and disinformation is probably more accurate. Unfortunately, thanks to the media and a certain man, the term fake news has taken off and it’s likely too far out of reach to correct.

So how do we educate our students enough to be able to combat this fake news on their own? People have their individual opinions on this, I, however, am in favour of teaching students about digital literacy, this means being competent and confident online in order to make the correct choices. Now although I am studying to be able to teach all ages of children, one of my favourite age groups is grade 1. So I thought it might be fun to try and tie in digital literacy to that curriculum. I did struggle at first to make connections between digital literacy and the grade 1 curriculum, but, then I realized that it was right in front of me the entire time. In the Health Education 1 Curriculum there are some outcomes that connect well and could very easily apply to digital literacy and identity. The first being USC1.1: Examine healthy behaviours and opportunities and begin to determine how these behaviours and opportunities may affect personal well-being. Being safe online is a healthy behaviour all people should practice, if not it may affect personal well-being. Another outcome is under the Decision Making category which is DM1.1: Examine initial steps (i.e., Stop, Think, Do) for making basic choices regarding healthy behaviours; healthy brain, heart, and lungs; healthy relationships; pedestrian/street safety; and a healthy sense of self. We don’t need the bodily anatomy part of this outcome but we can associate basic choices regarding healthy behaviours and a healthy sense of self with digital literacy and identity. Lastly, AP1.1: Apply the steps of Stop, Think, and Do (with guidance) to develop healthy behaviours related to a healthy brain, heart, and lungs; healthy relationships; pedestrian/street safety; and a healthy sense of self. Applying the basic steps of Stop, Think, and Do online can teach confidence and result in a healthy sense of self, and relationships.

A lot of these teachings pair with the goals of the NCTE Framework, here are some of the ones that the curriculum outcomes can also connect to:

  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

There are other and more general ways to teach students about fake news and digital literacy, these were just some examples that were specific to the curriculum. Another article that caught my eye How do we teach students to identify fake news? Written by Dr. Alec Couros and my professor for EDTC 300 Katia Hildebrandt had some really great ideas. I won’t summarize everything but a few of my favourite points were:

  • Teach students to identify bias using tools like a media bias chart, which provides a starting point for them to understand that all sources come from a particular perspective.
  • Bring real-world fake news examples that we encounter everyday into the classroom so that students can be challenged to apply their skills and techniques to authentic situations, like determining the true origin of a viral image or video and examining potential catfishers, bots, or trolls in order to better understand the hallmarks of fake and malicious social media accounts.

I particularly liked these because I didn’t have the chance to learn this in school and since learning these techniques I have been equipped with tools that have helped me combat fake news myself. I have learned so far in EDTC 300 even I need help to combat fake news. Hopefully, this journey is ongoing and I can reach a point where I don’t struggle to identify even the most well-hidden fake news. I would love to be able to help my students become fully digitally literate and know how to create a positive digital identity.


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