What we learned about media literacy by teaching high school students fact-checking

Is NASA sending a 17-year-old to space? Did a girl really get hit by a car doing the "In My Feelings" challenge? And is Chipotle giving away $100 gift cards for #NationalAvocadoDay?

High schoolers interrupted their summers to spend the last four weeks answering these questions and more as part of a project known as MediaWise , an initiative to  help middle and high school students be smarter consumers of news and information online. It’s partnership between Poynter, Google.org, the Stanford History Education Group, Local Media Association and others.

Over four weeks, six teenage interns identified misinformation on social media, wrote stories debunking fake news and starred in short videos — all aimed at educating a younger audience.

Although the experience was short, we learned a lot about teaching media literacy and why educating a new generation is a worthy cause.

Teenagers are not immune to the problem.

You might have a notion that teenagers are better at using the internet because they are “digital natives” (a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology).

But growing up behind a screen does not exempt teenagers from falling for fake news. It also doesn’t provide them with a foundation for understanding the media landscape.

In fact, the body of research fueling MediaWise backs up this point. According to the Stanford History Education Group, despite being online much or all of the day, the vast majority of teenagers are unable to correctly evaluate the credibility of online news and information.

Around three weeks into our summer program, one of the high school interns asked: “Is the Chicago Tribune a reliable source?”

While the answer was obvious to us, the intern’s comment illustrated a larger, more important point: students don’t know who to trust anymore (including a 27-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize).

According to two reports from Gallup and the Knight Foundation, “Americans estimate that 44 percent of the news they see on TV, read in the newspapers or hear on radio is inaccurate. They believe 64 percent of news they see on on social media is inaccurate.”

In other words, there’s a lot of work to be done to reestablish trust and educate audiences.

Teenagers are on Instagram and so is misinformation.  

The high school interns were quick to tell us that Facebook is for “middle-age adults,” not young people. In reality, teenagers spend more time on Instagram.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, 51 percent of U.S. teens 13 to 17 say they use Facebook, but 72 percent of teens said they use Instagram.

By focusing on Instagram, we found the perfect storm of circumstances. Whether it is celebrities, made up quotes, inaccurate memes or viral videos, the misinformation on the platform is wide-ranging and often goes unchecked.

Teenagers want to solve the problem.

Everyone is affected by misinformation, and teenagers want to be involved in fixing it.

The conferences we’ve attended and the feedback we’ve gotten from the high school interns show us that teens want to be an integral part of this process. The six MediaWise interns were eager to learn fact-checking and take ownership of educating their peers.

Although the high schoolers are gone, MediaWise will be creating a network of teen fact-checkers across the country. If you are a teenager or educator interested in joining, please email mwtips@poynter.org.

 

And for those in the Tampa Bay area, we hope you consider joining us Oct. 25 for a free MediaWise workshop. (Click for more information.)

 

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