Teaching students to be more critical of fake news

A small workshop held in the HBL Collaborative Classroom shows how easy it is to create a fabricated story and make it seem real. The workshop deciphered the recent bouts of Fake News and the credibility of today's news. (John Sammis/The Daily Campus)

A small group of instructors gathered yesterday to discuss ways of critiquing and understanding “fake news” and less than credible news sources.

The discussion titled “Invasion of Fake News: Information Literacy in the Age of Alternative Facts and Fake News,” held by associate director of first year writing, Lisa Blansett and librarian Donovan Reinwald, catered to first year English instructors.

The event was part-workshop and part-lecture. Attendants began by viewing a video of a man in traditional Middle Eastern clothing riding a hoverboard. The man then trips, falls and bursts into flames. Blansett asked participants to assemble into groups to craft a scenario out of the video that could be true.

The groups were then asked to explain how they would verify the truth of their invented stories. The groups mentioned checking other reputable news sources like the CIA, doing a reverse Google image search and other methods of verification.

Blansett tried to stress to the audience to consider the implications of a news story, video or picture.

For example, in December an armed man threatened people in a D.C. restaurant after fake news stories circulated about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring within the restaurant.

Blansett explained that fake stories have consequences and media literacy must be improved in both students and the average citizen.

Blansett and Reinwald further explained how often the discussions need to be reframed. Instead of what is right or wrong, or what is a liberal or conservative view, the conversation should stem in accuracy and logic.

Other journalism goals such as objectivity were discussed. Coverage of the Berlin truck attack in December by the New York Times and by Breitbart were analyzed. Language within the Breitbart article, such as words and phrases like “evil” “supposedly” and “he died screaming” were picked apart. One attendant said in that example her students would say, “But killing 12 people is evil. Why can’t the New York Times admit that?” Blansett said that reminding students that emotions and opinions are very necessarily left out of news reporting is crucial to media literacy.

Reinwald said that the University of Connecticut libraries will be posting an online guide to analyzing news stories for credibility and accuracy in upcoming months.

The final activity was brainstorming goals and assignments to get students thinking about fake news and media literacy.

Patrick Russell, a first year writing instructor, said that during Colin Kaepernick’s time of kneeling for the national anthem in NFL games he asked his students to think critically about the media reports circulating then.

“I had my students come up with a list of American values. We got freedom of speech, equality and freedom for all, support for the troops and more,” Russell said. “Then we went through news sites that were reporting on (Kaepernick) and we looked at which values were being promoted. It came down to what are the most important American values? Supporting the troops or freedom of speech? Right to expression and freedom from tyranny or respect for authority? We didn’t come to any answers about which is best, but we just started to think about what does this tell us about the news.”


Claire Galvin is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus.   She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.