ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We have an update now to a story we aired recently about fake news. In that story, we spoke with Professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University. He had just released a study measuring how well middle, high school and college students could tell the difference between real and fake news. Bottom line - not well at all. Wineburg didn't blame the students.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: How do they become prepared to make the choices about what to believe, what to forward, what to post to their friends when they're given no practice in school?
SHAPIRO: Some schools are trying to help students sort fact from fiction in this digital age. Cory Turner of the NPR Ed team went to one.
PATRICIA HUNT: The question that many of you asked on your annotation of Pizzagate - why would someone start a rumor?
SHAPIRO: Patricia Hunt teaches government at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.
HUNT: The question that I want you to be thinking about today when we do this next lesson - why would anyone believe it?
TURNER: Hunt's been a teacher for 24 years, but today she's doing something she's never done before. She's helping to pilot a new digital curriculum called checkology. It's from the nonprofit The News Literacy Project. It starts with a video of Washington Post political reporter Matea Gold.
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MATEA GOLD: Viral content includes stories, vignettes, ads, rumors and memes that catch on like a flu in the winter, quickly passing from one person to the next, often with little regard as to whether the content is true or not.
TURNER: Hunt's students, most of them seniors, sit in clusters of threes and fours. Each has a laptop, and after the video, they're presented with a series of viral stories. Some are propaganda, some are ads, and some are pure fact.
KAHDER SMITH: We don't know which is which at this point.
TURNER: Kahder Smith feels a little overwhelmed.
SMITH: We actually have to sit down and take our time, actually read it and, like, probably Google some stuff to actually see if it's real or not.
TURNER: The student's first test comes from Facebook. A post claims that more than a dozen people died after receiving the flu vaccine in Italy and that the CDC is now telling people not to get a flu shot. Autumn Cooper is torn.
AUTUMN COOPER: I mean, I've heard many rumors that the flu shots - they're really bad for you.
TURNER: But her gut says the story's all wrong.
COOPER: It just doesn't look like a reliable source. It looks like this is off Facebook, and someone shared it.
TURNER: Cooper labels the story fiction, and she's right. Classmate Suvra Das took a different path to the same answer. When he's not sure of a story, he checks the comments section.
SUVRA DAS: 'Cause they usually figure it out. Like, one comment was, I just fact-checked this, and it doesn't appear to be true. Where else do you see this to be true?
TURNER: The students come up with a few other red flags. Maybe the story doesn't have a byline or credible sources, or no one else has covered it. The News Literacy Project was founded nearly nine years ago by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning L.A. Times reporter. The idea was to give students the tools to be smarter consumers not just of news, but all information. Then fake news became a real problem, and in May, the group unveiled checkology. There's a free basic version and a premium version that's more interactive for students.
ELIS ESTRADA: Number one question that I love asking them is - where did you get your news?
TURNER: Elis Estrada is the group's Washington, D.C., program manager. She says she's often in the classroom, running through the first lesson with students.
ESTRADA: And the majority of them say, what is news? You know, they don't even know what it is.
TURNER: Kahder Smith says he's happy to get the guided practice.
SMITH: I fall to fake news all the time, even just like random Twitter posts. And I'm like, damn, why did I just read that?
TURNER: And Smith's not alone. Many said they don't watch or listen to the news or read newspapers or even use the websites of newspapers. Instead, they said, they get their news from social media, an infinite stream of stories - some true, some false, all shiny and enticing. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.
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