Fake news is becoming one of the biggest problems on the internet. We constantly hear about how fake news is impeding on democracy and altering our understanding of what is true and what is not. Fake news is nothing new but the introduction of the internet into our lives has made it much easier to disseminate. Students need to understand that not everything they access through social media and through the internet is necessarily true. Students need to become discerning readers. This exercise will raise their awareness of the dangers of false news and help them to be more discerning about what they read on the internet and on social media. This activity can either be done in class, perhaps in groups or pairs or at home.
In part one, students are given a title.
Kim Jon-Sexiest man in the world
Write this headline on the board and perhaps project a picture of Kim Jon if you have one. Tell the students to work in pairs and look at this story. Tell them they don’t have to read it completely but just get an idea of what the story is about.
Now ask them to find out if this story is true. Tell them to go on the internet and search for other articles about Kim Jon and see if they can find out more about the story.
The story is false. The website ‘The Onion’ invents stories and is a sort of satirical website. However the China Daily newspaper in China, thought the story was true and did a big article about Kim Jon based on the story in the Onion. You can find the full story here. It shows you how easy it is to trick people. Even the official government paper in China, thought the story was true.
Article with true story
Video with true story
Students need to look beyond any story or any website they come across. Project this link onto the screen. It provides some useful, clear and concise advice about what to do when looking for fake news or information. Go through the different tips with the students.
Now tell the students that you are going to show them some websites. They must decide if they contain false information or genuine information. They can use the guide in part two to help them. Explain that they must ‘back up ‘ their opinions with evidence. What tells them that the website is genuine or fake? Tell them to find as much evidence as possible. 2 or 3 pieces of evidence is much better than one.
Does this Island really exist? Is this website genuine? What made them decide?
The site is fake. There are lots of obvious clues. For example dogs can sign up for a newsletter and notice also the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
Now do the same with this second site. Is this site genuine? Is this a site you would recommend to your friends? Why or why not?
This is much more difficult to work out. It looks very good but the clue is that much of the information is wrong. For example Columbus was not born in Australia and he wasn’t born in 1951.
As a conclusion ask students to write out some rules about what things they should do when checking the authenticity of a website or of news they find on social media. Perhaps you could make a useful list and put them on the wall.
Russell Stannard is the founder of TeacherTrainingVideos.Com and the Associate Trainer at NILE. He was the previous winner of the Times Higher ‘Outstanding Technology Initiative’, the British Council ‘Technology Innovation Award’ and the University of Westminster ‘Excellence in Teaching Award.’ He trains teachers all over the world, especially in the use of technology in language teaching.