Most students can’t tell fake news from real news, study shows

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If you thought you heard the last on fake news, you were sadly mistaken.

A Stanford study found that the majority of middle school students can’t tell the difference between real news and fake news. In fact, 82 percent couldn’t distinguish between a real news story on a website and a “sponsored content” post.

Of the 8,704 students studied (ranging in age from middle school to college level), four in ten high-school students believed that the region near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant was toxic after seeing an unsourced photo of deformed daisies coupled with a headline about the Japanese area. The photo, keep in mind, had no source or location attribution. Meanwhile, two out of every three middle-schoolers were fooled by an article on financial preparedness penned by a bank executive.

It seems that those surveyed in the study were judging validity of news on Twitter based on the amount of detail in the tweet and whether or not a large photo was attached, rather than focusing on the source of the tweet.

The WSJ, which first reported on the study, says that a big part of solving this problem among young people comes down to education, both at school and at home.

But with 62 percent of U.S. adults getting the majority of their news from social media, the responsibility for this issue also lies with the social media organizations themselves, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Both Google and Facebook have made steps toward thwarting the fake news onslaught, including banning fake news organizations from their ad network. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also posted a number of responses to the issue on Facebook, and gave actual steps toward stopping the spread of fake news on the platform.

That said, the fallout from fake news is not as minor as Zuck originally stated in his first response on Facebook, where he mentioned that less than 1 percent of news on Facebook is fake.

Even in minuscule amounts, fake news has a much greater ability to spread quickly and be consumed by many given the nature of the salacious headlines themselves. Paired with the fact that most adults get their news from social media, and most young people can’t tell the difference, you can see just how problematic this issue is.

Hopefully, steps toward stopping fake news come swiftly and effectively. But until then, it’s important for parents to be diligent in teaching their kids how to determine the difference between a sourced news report and a salacious headline with no evidence behind it.

Featured Image: Nationaal Archief/J.D. Noske/Flickr