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News Literacy: Activity

Evaluating "Fake News" Activity

Use a fact-checking website such as Snopes or FactCheck.org to find a false or deceptive story related to your course or discipline. The idea is to choose something that will engage students and that can be examined in ten minutes or so. For example, in a science or public health course, you might choose a story linking vaccines to autism or a story spreading disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. In a communication or political science course, you might select a misleading campaign advertisement or a popular conspiracy theory posting from social media.

Seek out the original story and have it ready to share with students. Before class or at the beginning of the activity, students can watch the “Real News vs. Fake News” video. Use this as a springboard to discuss legitimate news sources and how they differ from “fake news” and other kinds of misinformation.

Next, give students access to the “fake news” story you selected (as a link, handout, etc.). You can tell them the story is false, but do not tell them why the story is false. Ask students to examine the story in groups or individually and respond to questions such as:

  • Who is the primary audience for the story? Why might they find it believable? Why might they choose to share it online?
  • What are the implications of believing the story? What are the potential consequences or harms?
  • How would you go about fact-checking or evaluating the story?

You can incorporate discipline-specific questions into this activity as well. For instance:

  • How does the “fake news” story employ the rhetorical conventions of legitimate news or other genres to manipulate the audience?
  • What are the ethical implications of creating or sharing “fake news?”
  • What are the implications of “fake news” on voter behavior or political campaigning?
  • How does human psychology influence our interpretation of “fake news” or other misinformation?
  • What role does confirmation bias play in “fake news?”

After students have examined the story, go over the discussion questions as a class. During the discussion, you can explain the background of the particular “fake news” story and its particular flaws. Conclude the activity by watching the “Identifying Misinformation” video and comparing the strategies in the video to the students’ own strategies.

Please note that this activity can be adapted for asynchronous online learning by having students submit responses to the questions and using a discussion forum (or similar tool) to facilitate interaction among students.

Creative Commons License CC by NC 4.0

Citizen Literacy was created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze for University of Louisville Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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