Study Shows Most Students Can’t Distinguish Between Real And Fake News

Stanford researchers spent more than a year evaluating how well students across the country can evaluate online sources of information.

Results of a new study at Stanford Graduate School of Education  have disappointed researchers greatly.

A team that evaluated students' ability to assess information sources has  described the results as "dismaying," "bleak" and "[a] threat to democracy."

They found most middle school students can’t distinguish real news from fake news.

The findings also revealed that an alarming 82 percent of thestudents surveyed believed sponsored content was a real news story.

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” said Professor Sam Wineburg. “Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

Here’s what the study found:

  • Middle school students have a hard time distinguishing between native advertising -- which looks like news articles -- and actual news stories.
  • Many high school students couldn't distinguish between a fake news source and a real news source on Facebook. Only a quarter of those surveyed knew what the "blue checkmark" -- which is supposed to indicate a real news source -- meant.
  • Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.
  • A large number of college students didn't suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.
  • Majority of Stanford students couldn't identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.

The spreading of fake news on social media is becoming a norm and has lately been much criticized by many in the wake of the presidential election - so much so that it has led both Facebook and Google to announce measures to prevent fake news stories from appearing on their news feeds.

“I think there is a lot of discussion about this in the context of social media,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a recent interview. “It is important to remember this was a very close election and so, just for me, looking at it scientifically, one in a hundred voters voting one way or the other swings the election either way.”

“So, when you talk about such narrow margins, obviously there are many, many contributing factors and so I think there is enormous debate because of that—I am not fully sure what caused this.”

Despite originally dismissing the idea that fake news was a serious issue, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has eventually outlined plans on how to combat fake news.

"The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously," said Zuckerberg. "We take this responsibility seriously. We've made significant progress, but there is more work to be done."

He added Facebook was working to develop stronger fake news detection, a warning system, easier reporting and technical ways to classify misinformation. Facebook has also been in contact with fact checking organizations.

The researchers’ work doesn’t end here and they have full intentions of chalking out a plan to combat this dismaying trend among youngsters.

“In the coming months, we look forward to sharing our assessments and working with educators to create materials that will help young people navigate the sea of disinformation they encounter online,” says Professor Sam Wineburg.

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