BY: ELIJAH BASSETT
At The Plaid Zebra, we try to tell you the truth about what’s going on in the world. But, as you’ve probably heard, not everybody is so scrupulous. In the past year or so especially, the mass of fake news sites out there has managed to gain an alarming level of influence over some people, including voters. But why do people believe that stuff? One group, the News Literacy Project, says that it’s because readers just aren’t equipped with the right critical reading skills to handle this new media environment.
Of course, they couldn’t just say that and not do anything about it, so they’ve now started to work with schools on a program to teach students how to critically engage with the news. It’s called the checkology virtual classroom, and it teaches young people fact checking and other critical thinking skills they’re going to need in order to become informed citizens in an era where lying on the internet is big business.
It’s especially important because poor news literacy has the potential to cause real harm, as we saw with the recent “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that led one person to fire off a gun in a pizzeria because he thought it was a pedophile ring. When people can be led that far astray by fiction presented as fact, organizations that fight back against this kind of deception are more necessary than ever.
The News Literacy Project isn’t ’t the only one taking action. Facebook has also announced that they will be launching a new feature in Germany that lets users flag fake news to be sent to fact checkers. With a German election coming up, Facebook is probably worried about the potential of fake news to sway elections through disinformation, and they have good reason for concern.
According to the New York Times, German officials are concerned about foreign interference in their elections, due to Russia’s recent interference in other Western democracies. Even American media have been causing trouble for Germany, as in a recent incident where a media outlet claimed that Germany’s oldest church had been set on fire. This kind of disinformation can be harmful to democracy as well as individuals, since it fosters bigotry and hampers critical thought. Although Facebook hasn’t said anything about implementing the tool worldwide, allowing some users to fight back against fake news is still a step in the right direction, and we can hope that they’ll keep it up. In the meantime we’ll have to keep doing the fact-checking ourselves, because it’s not just Germany that’s vulnerable.
Although Facebook and the News Literacy Project differ in their approaches, both are necessary since Facebook is still just one site, and we as readers need to make sure we’re capable of distinguishing fact from fiction. Our collective difficulty in doing so is why Oxford had to make last year’s Word of the Year “post-truth,” but education programs like this show that it doesn’t have to be this way.