- Click here for the study.
Here's the executive summary:
When thousands of students respond to dozens of tasks there are endless variations. That was certainly the case in our experience. However, at each level—middle school, high school, and college—these variations paled in comparison to a stunning and dismaying consistency. Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.
Our “digital natives” may be able to fit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that follows through social media channels, they are easily duped. We did not design our exercises to shake out a grade or make hairsplitting distinctions between a “good” and a “better” answer. Rather, we sought to establish a reasonable bar, a level of performance we hoped was within reach of most middle school, high school, and college students. For example, we would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee. And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who’s behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.
For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not. Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off. Michael Lynch, a philosopher who studies technological change, observed that the Internet is “both the world’s best fact checker and the world’s best bias confirmer—often at the same time.”1 Never have we had so much information at our fngertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it. At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.
- NPR outlines the study's finding: Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds.
- Most middle school students can't tell native ads from articles.
- Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.
- Many high school students couldn't tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook.
- Most college students didn't suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.
- Most Stanford students couldn't identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.