A Fake News Activity For Students (updated)

Fake news is making news.

Teaching students to assess the content they read online for bias has never been more important. Here's an activity you can do with your students loosely based on Alan November's REAL method.

Warm Up

Ask your students the following warm up questions. Collect their answers on the board.

  • What is bias?
  • What kinds of websites would we expect to be biased?
  • What kinds of websites would we expect to be unbiased?
  • How do we decide who won the election?
  • Who won the 2016 US presidential election?
  • What is the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college?

Teacher's note: Hopefully the concept of the popular vote and the electoral college will come up. According to CNN Clinton won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college.

Activity

This article makes the false claim that Clinton lost the popular vote. Is this claim true? Follow these steps to assess this article for bias:

  1. Read the article and consider the evidence given to support the claim.
  2. Read the website address to determine what kind of news outlet created this article.
  3. Examine the design of the page to determine how professional the site is.
  4. Ask about the article author.
  5. Ask Google for other points of view.
  6. Ask EasyWhoIs for the site owner
  7. Reflect on how much you'd like this article to be true. You don't want this article to be true? Reflect on how much someone else might like for this article to be true.

Teacher's note: Perhaps you want to make up a handy worksheet - or divide into groups? I'll let you figure out the logistics of this. But give your class the time to dig deep into each of these seven areas.

Report Out

Okay - time to share your results. Have the class share what they found.

Here's what I found out:

  • This article is almost entirely based on unreferenced twitter posts
  • The website address is a free Wordpress site
  • The content on the page is amateurish to the point of probably being a default template of some kind
  • The article does not have a listed author, the site also does not have a listed author
  • Google searches easily return wide agreement on a different point of view
  • EasyWhoIs doesn't work because the site is a free Wordpress domain
  • Although I don't wish this information to be true I can easily imagine that a great many people would like to claim a groundswell of popular support for the president elect.

Overall my conclusion is that this site is very biased.

Teacher's note: After sharing out the results of the review let students have a dialog about what is news and what constitutes an opinion. Why do students think fake news is in the news?

Homework

Option 1: Listen to this podcast and answer the following questions:

  • Why did the Fake News King start his fake news sites?
  • Do you think fake news sites like these influenced the outcome of the election?
  • Should fake news be regulated by the government?

Option 2:  Read this article and answer the following questions:

  • What does Mark Zuckerberg think about fake news on Facebook?
  • Do you think Facebook influenced the outcome of the election?
  • Should Facebook ban fake news from the site?

Option 3: Read this article and rewrite it as fake news

  • Imagine you wanted to persuade / move / influence people on this issue
  • What psychological theories and practices would you use? Would you appeal to fear? Perhaps propose a secret conspiracy?
  • Write a new headline and a new article
  • Bonus: Create a chart or graphic to support your new article

Thanks to Ernest Koe for the idea on homework option 3!

What do you think? How have you been helping students learn about fake news? Let us know in the comments!