Your News Literacy FAQs - A note to my students

After a quick one period lesson (because I am only at the school one day a week) with my middle school students about news literacy, I asked them to send me questions they still had. I am posting them here, with my answers, for students to access and to help anyone else who may be asked similar questions by students.

Hello LMS Students!

I loved having the opportunity to teach you about how we need to evaluate news and media. One period was definitely not enough time. Because I am only at your school one day a week which is not enough time to see you all on a regular basis, I am posting the answers to your FAQs here for you to read and refer back to. Please know I am always available if you have questions, stop by or email me.

You all had great feedback, questions and concerns about our lesson on news literacy.  
Here are the answers to some of your questions…

Do fake news websites get shut down?
Can we stop fake news?
Is there a law for clickbait sites?

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights assures that we have the freedom of speech in This includes a free press (that includes news), the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more.  This is a good thing!!!  Senator John McCain said this weekend, "We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital." (Ok students, when there is a quote but no link to the original source, what do you do?)

Imagine what our country might be like if the government controlled all the news and had laws about what we could or could not say, see, hear or print. I challenge you to research countries that do not have free press and what life is like there. The Committee to Protect Journalists posted an article The 10 Most Censured Countries. If you decide to research this, let me know if you need help..

What companies such as Google and Facebook (who are working on this) can do is identify news imposters and stop paying them ad revenue.  Facebook now has a way that readers can flag news stories they suspect are false.  For more check out this article.

MORE IMPORTANTLY: What YOU can do is learn as much as you can about how to evaluate what you see, hear and read. An crucial piece to evaluating the news is background knowledge. It is important to understand the history of our country and our world, science concepts and principals, mathematical formulas and skills, and the different types of writing and reporting.

Pay attention in all of your classes!! The knowledge you are gaining in ALL of your subjects makes you smarter so you can evaluate the news and media intelligently.

Don’t forget all the great resources on our LibGuide to help you.

Why do people spread misinformation?  Is it just for money?

First, let’s understand what information is and the different kinds of false information.
image by +Casey LaPlante 

So misinformation is typically a mistake or something that was shared without proper checking.  Sometimes it is the competitive news outlets trying to report a breaking story with the newest bit of news first (remember the Boston Marathon video of news errors?)

Yes money drives disinformation and propaganda. They make money from:
  • the ad revenue from clicks to the site
  • a fake ad made to look like news to sell something (like the newest weight loss magic pill).  

Companies might want us to believe something that will in the end profit them (not a direct profit from web site clicks and ads).  For example, in the 1920s and 1930s cigarette companies wanted people to believe that smoking was good for you. They hired actors and models for their advertisements and called them "doctors" to say that smoking was healthy. This is disinformation. Read more about that here. In the late 1930s studies were beginning to show that smoking caused cancer and heart disease. It wasn't until 1970 when cigarette advertising on television and radio were prohibited by the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act.

Now companies use the Internet to make their disinformation and propaganda appear as news. There are companies who are polluting our environment who may want us to believe that climate change is not real.   They do not want regulations and restrictions put on their business which may cost them money and cut into their profits.  So they support the articles that promote the idea that climate change and global warming is not happening. Again, the bottom line is money.  

Is it illegal to lie on news media?

It is not illegal to lie on the news.  If I were to lie to a news reporter in an interview, it would hurt my reputation and career.  The journalist interviewing me should do thorough research and other interviews to know that I am lying and discredit me.   

However, defamation is illegal. Defamation is the act of damaging the reputation of someone.  If I lie and tell a story to a journalist about my boss being a thief it is illegal!

Do memes count as fake information?

A meme is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.”

Memes sometimes refer to something happening in the news. My advice to you is to research the information the meme is claiming. Google the quote or the gist of what the meme claims to learn what it is referencing to understand the actual events.

I created the meme to the right.  It is an actual photograph but hopefully you recognize that the quote is not real as George Washington never said it.  Why did I make it?  To teach YOU!!!  

How do I filter info for a report?
How do we know if someone is telling true or false information?

Doing research is hard work.  When starting research always start with sources that you KNOW are good.   I suggest starting here on our LibGuide.  This list will grow next year.   

#1 I suggest starting with Britannica Encyclopedia to gain background knowledge on a topic.  This digital reference tool also has links to sites that have been vetted by professional researchers so you can rest assured they have good info.

Resources for Middle Schools   researchIT CT.png#2 USE DATABASES.  Databases are online collections of searchable articles, reference sources.  They cost money because there are people getting paid to check these sources and make sure they are good. We pay for those subscriptions for you, our students, to access.  The public library also has databases for you as well. Check out with your public library card number for some free databases from the State of CT.

Databases are amazing sources and we will talk more about them next year when I add to our database collection.

#3 Evaluate websites before you use them.  There are lots of acronyms to use.   

Below is a video about the CRAAP Test to help you evaluate what you read.
You can find checklists on the LibGuide to accompany this 

Why do people read the fake news if they know it is not real?

Some people read “fake news”, knowing it is fake, for entertainment.  For me, there is too much information out there and I only want to fill my head with what I know is true.  If I know something is fake, I do not want to waste my time or space in my brain to read it.

Another reason people read fake news that they know is not real is because they want to believe something is true, even if facts prove otherwise.  We call this post-truth and it was the Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year.

You can link to Oxford Dictionary to learn about post-truth.  What it means is that people rely on their emotions and personal beliefs, not proven facts, when making decisions.  These people seek out disinformation and propaganda to reaffirm their beliefs.   


What if this person does fake news stories and everybody knows it and then he did a real story but nobody believes him?

This question made me think of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Just like in the story, a person who writes fake news (lies) and later decides to become a real journalist (tell the truth) has destroyed their own reputation by purposefully lying and making bad choices and probably will not succeed writing “real news” because no one will believe him or her.  

How do real news sources like CNN and NBC verify their facts before they report it?

This is an excellent video that shows some of the research journalists do. It is definitely worth watching!

Can't Google disable the account of the fake news journalists?

Google is banning the AdSense accounts of sites that misrepresent themselves (note, they changed the wording from “fake news” to “sites that misrepresent”).  In my research I have not seen anything where Google completely disables accounts.  If they did would they be violating freedom of speech?  

Please let me know if you have any further questions or if you think of something you forgot to ask.  I can't promise I will know the answer, but I promise I will help you find it!


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