Teens are tech savvy, but too gullible about online ‘truthiness’

Teens may be “digital natives,” but most can’t judge the credibility of online information, concludes a Stanford study.

Students can’t google their way to the truth, write researchers Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew.

At every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation: middle school students unable to tell the difference between an advertisement and a news story; high school students taking at face value a cooked-up chart from the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee; college students credulously accepting a .org top-level domain name as if it were a Good Housekeeping seal.

Stanford students were asked to compare the trustworthiness of information from the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (66,000 members, established in 1930, publishes Pediatrics) and the American College of Pediatricians (small anti-gay group that broke off in 2002). More than half concluded the College was “more reliable.” Apparently, it had a nicely designed site.

Students don’t jump to other sites to cross-check information or put it in context, the researchers found.

In a Northwestern study, college students were influenced by how high a story appeared on search results, rather than by the source of the information.

Teachers and school librarians are trying to teach “media literacy,” writes Jackie Zubrzycki on Education Week. Students need help distinguishing fact from opinion.

All those folks who said students don’t need to know things — they can look it up — should be having second thoughts. Without background information it’s hard to judge what’s likely to be true.

Did the Pope endorse Donald Trump for president? I know the pope doesn’t do political endorsements, so I don’t need to “fact check” the claim. I also use common sense. Did Hillary Clinton adopt an alien baby who survived a UFO crash? Probably not.

Plenty of adults have trouble distinguishing between spin, satire, lies and just-the-facts-ma’am. Leonard Pitts recommends “a news platform that specializes in gathering and disseminating non-fake news.”  He’s talking about newspapers.

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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at joannejacobs.com, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at ccspotlight.org.

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