Houston-area students learn about online fact-checking
More than 5,000 Houston-area students should now be better equipped to tell fact from fiction online, thanks to workshops that were the first of their kind in the nation.
Nonprofit MediaWise gave a crash course in fack-checking to both students and teachers Jan. 7-10 at Memorial and Spring Woods High Schools and Spring Forest Middle School as they returned from their winter break.
On Tuesday, Jan. 8, about 650 Memorial sophomores and journalism students packed their auditorium to listen. A video of the presentation was later shown to the rest of the school’s students. It was the first time MediaWise had taken its curriculum to an entire student body instead of having journalism students come to them.
In a deviation from the norm of school, the students were asked to take out their phones and bring up the MediaWise Instagram page. They voted throughout the presentation on whether certain news stories were fake.
“They use all these teachings on real-world examples, so they’re debunking stuff on the internet but then kind of teaching along the way,” said Katy Byron, editor at The Poynter Institute and MediaWise project manager.
Examples included hoaxes like President Barack Obama signing a bill banning the Pledge of Allegiance and Simba from “The Lion King” going vegan. They also discussed photos that were posted out of context last year during the migrant caravan issue.
Talyn Burgess-Jimenez, a Memorial junior and journalism student, said she appreciated the course and that she plans to use a technique called reverse Google image search in her future internet use.
“It’s definitely something I will use because you always see those pictures that can be altered, and you never know unless you like search it,” Talyn said.
Byron urged the students to be careful of what they read online because it affects how they see the world and what decisions they make.
“It could be something small like if you want to check out a restaurant review or if you want to just find the nearest coffee shop, but it also impacts really big decisions too, like where you want to go to college, where is your first job going to be,” she said. “All that stuff, you’re getting a lot of that information from the internet, right? So this stuff really does have a real-world impact.”
Ava Lahijani is a junior and journalism student at Memorial and agrees with Byron that sniffing out fake news is critical in today’s world and political climate.
“Lots of teens see memes or news on social media about things that are happening in the world, but they don’t even realize that fake news is a recurring problem, especially since Trump has been in office,” Ava said. “Fake news is being spread on social media and it comes from friends or people we trust, so most people don’t go and check to see if it’s true. My generation is going to be the leaders of the future, and if we don’t know how to decipher fake news, it’s going to be become an even bigger problem.”
MediaWise worked with popular author John Green to launch a 10-part series of YouTube Crash Course videos on Jan. 8. A new video about deciphering online information will be launched each Tuesday for 10 weeks.
MediaWise is a part of The Poynter Institute, the Stanford History Education Group, the Local Media Association and the National Association for Media Literacy Education and has a goal of teaching 1 million students about fact-checking by 2020, largely through a curriculum set to launch this fall in schools across the nation.