[STAFF EDITORIAL] Verifying news sources vital to combating misinformation

Editorial Cartoon: Jasper Green

The Rubicon Staff

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Although the term “fake news” became a fad during the 2016 election, the spread of false information due to a misplacement of trust in unreliable news sources is far from new. While students learn how to find trustworthy sources for formal assignments, it is important that classes take this one step further and add curriculum to teach students how to apply these skills when reading the news.

In a democracy, each individual has an obligation to their fellow citizens to be adequately informed, since each individual plays a role in making choices that affect everyone. Since education is the only solution to the problem of misinformation, it becomes each school’s responsibility to teach students how to conduct research.

Misinformation can also harm a community socially. News shapes our values and worldviews. False stories can spark intense emotions that are entirely unnecessary when the story simply isn’t true. They can also warp students’ perceptions of each other, especially politically, and can give students the idea that they know others’ opinions on hot button topics without actually talking to them. This discourages conversation between potentially opposing viewpoints – the opposite of SPA’s goal.

There is often a mental gap between conducting research and casually reading the news. Students know how to find quality sources when it is for their annual history papers but forget these practices when it comes to their daily news intake. This must be corrected and it would only require a small but ongoing curriculum practice to do so. Since research and finding sources is already taught in a number of core subjects – namely, history and science – it would only be necessary to build upon that education, not add something entirely new to any class. In 9th grade, history teachers already teach about how to find trustworthy sources through databases and google scholar. It would be simple to also add how those same strategies can be applied to news read on the internet.

In an age where anyone can post to the internet it is more important than ever to be vigilant in checking the reliability of sources. A common perception of “fake news” is that it is produced by bots. However, according to a study from MIT published in Science journal, Twitter users play a much larger role in the spread of false news than bots do. The irony of misinformation being spread about who is at the most fault for the spread of misinformation only emphasizes the importance of being able to discern between trustworthy sources and unreliable ones.

The ability to distinguish between reliable sources and misinformation can be applied to an infinite number of situations – whether it be choosing a college or even deciding which candidate to vote for. If the curriculum shifts to reinforce how widely applicable this skill is, students will make this checking of facts a regular practice in their daily news consumption.

This editorial was originally printed in the February print edition.

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