One of the greatest challenges facing educators today is teaching students to recognize whether the information they read, hear, and see is true. Becoming a critical information consumer is a necessary skill for everyone, and recognizing fake news can be challenging for anyone, especially for children and teens, not yet experienced with deceptive practices.
Ever share a post on social media, text, or email only to later learn that the information was not true? Sites such as Snopes provide a great service checking the facts on articles and posts that are shared with large groups of people. They are dedicated to stopping misinformation through fake news and pride themselves on knowing the difference between urban legends, lies, misinformation, and true facts. Even more important is when they expose scams. Some of these posts contain viruses, others steal people’s personal information.
The back story of GrantWatch.com, is that it was created to avoid scams and misleading posts about nonexistent grants and funding. At GrantWatch, you can be sure the facts have been checked. According to Libby Hikind, founder and CEO, “There is a process that every grant listed on our website, must go through. The research associate checks the details and then sends them to the grant associate. From there the grant goes through editing and proofreading and then on to the publisher. After the grant is published the funding source gets an email – displaying the full grant details, for their final review.”
“We at GrantWatch are grateful and appreciate our consumers and see them as part of the fact-checking process – because information may change after publication and we take our consumer’s comments and suggestions quite seriously.”
Snopes recently posted an article in February 2019 showing a scam claiming that Little Caesars restaurants were offering three free pizzas with a coupon to celebrate their anniversary.
Remember, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is [too good to be true].” says Libby Hikind. “We get calls from individuals who received a phone call saying they had won a grant and only needed to send a Western Union or Green Dot with money for the taxes, before receiving the funds. My first question is, “Did you apply for a grant?’ and the answer is always, “NO! But they said I won!” If the individual had any inkling that something was amiss and took no action, they are lucky; but for those who want to believe – their balloon of hope bursts when they realize that they can kiss the money they wired to a scammer, goodbye.
Whether or not the Little Caesars “3 free large pizza” coupon carries any viral threat, it is best avoided simply because it is fake and therefore of no value or interest to anyone except scammers.
It’s often not so simple to tell whether the information you receive is fact or fiction. Some sources contain a mixture of true facts and some false information, as in this listing by Snopes regarding funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation providing free textbooks. (https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/bill-and-melinda-gates-free-textbooks/).
The Washington Post online edition includes a Fact Checker, The Truth Behind The Rhetoric with analyses of what facts, quotes, and statements by writers and politicians are true, misleading or exaggerated, or just plain false.
The Huffington Post published an opinion piece on the subject by guest writers Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew, “To Avoid Getting Duped By Fake News, Think Like a Fact Checker,” in which they shared that adults often need to think less critically when searching the web due to their experience in reading print media. They found “People missed crucial clues about who might be trying to sway their opinion because they imported ways of reading from the world of print – even though the web plays by different rules. Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University, and graduate student McGrew worked with a team who observed and documented how three groups of experienced internet users evaluated the trustworthiness of digital sources: fact-checkers at top news organizations, historians at four universities, and students at Stanford University. They found that fact-checkers are the most accurate and made their decisions in much less time than the other groups.
One major difference between the groups is that fact-checkers learn about a site by leaving it.
Within seconds of opening new windows to search for information about the website’s sponsoring organization, they are generally able to tell whether the website is reliable and whether the information can be trusted or not.
When checking Wikipedia, “They beelined straight to the more authoritative references at the bottom and clicked on those. They understood that “the web” is not a metaphor: To learn about a single node you must see where it fits in a larger network.”
Put search terms in quotation marks to avoid getting Google results with your keywords anywhere on the page. It’s best to open several new tabs and perform a number of searches, don’t just trust the first or even second reference you review.
“Without these basic skills, you can have all the critical thinking in the world and still tumble down digital rabbit holes,” according to Wineburg and McGrew.
A site called Quartz recently wrote about teaching children to think like fact-checkers, in an in-depth exploration of research studies and learning the basic skills of fact-checking.
In an article by Annabelle Timsit published by Quartz online, “In The Age of Fake News, Here’s How Schools Are Teaching Kids To Think Like Fact Checkers,” Ms. Timsit shares insights about research done at Stanford University, by their History Education Group (HEG), who set out to measure “civic online reasoning,” young people’s ability to judge the credibility of the information they find online. They designed 56 different assessments for their study of students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges from 12 states, collecting a total of 7,804 responses.
They assumed that since today’s kids are so media savvy they would be able to tell the difference between real articles and promotional pieces posted with a bias. They wrote in their report “many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite.” Students were tricked by sponsored content and didn’t always recognize the political bias of social messages.
Click here for the full executive summary by Stanford History Education Group. Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.
About the Author: The author is a staff writer for GrantWatch and all GrantWatch-affiliated sites.