A new study by researchers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education measured the ability of students across a variety of age groups to discern fact from fiction online. What they found is that the majority of students across the entire spectrum of education were unable to effectively separate fact, fiction and opinion and increasingly susceptible to the phenomenon of fake news.
According to The Hechinger Report, some of the more alarming findings include the fact that 93 percent of college students were unable to identify a lobbyist’s webpage as a biased source of information, fewer than 20 percent of high school students were unaware that viewing one photo online is not enough to know whether the depicted event actually occurred and 80 percent of middle school students did not know that sponsored content is paid advertising.
The results surprised the researchers, as they expected that the generation who has grown up immersed in digital content would would be more adept at identifying the quality of information they found.
“Our first round of piloting shocked us into reality,” the author of the report wrote. “Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite.”
The study was conducted between Jan. 2015 and June 2016 and involved students in 12 states. Overall, the researchers administered 56 tasks and accumulated 7,804 responses.
With the issue of “fake news” spread on social media gaining more scrutiny in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, this study is especially timely.
The study suggests that modern students are “poorly equipped” to explain how to find credible information and that schools need to have a renewed focus on teaching how to be discerning with information encountered on social media and the internet as a whole. The authors add that this work must start much earlier than it does now, ideally in elementary school, and that the History Education Group at Stanford is creating materials to distribute to teachers to assist in doing so.