Teaching Media Literacy: 4 Tips for Helping Students Identify Fake News

Teaching Trends
Student Success
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Janet Mizrahi is a continuing lecturer of professional writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is also an author at BizCommBuzz.


You’ve likely noticed a dearth of media literacy in your own classrooms. In fact, a study done at Stanford found that students’ inability to accurately assess information was “shocking” and “a threat to democracy.” Need we further reason to teach our students how to discern false sources from real?

To do so, we must teach media literacy, which involves access to and evaluation of all forms of communication—digital, print, visual and more. Media literacy is an integral part of interpreting the ever-expanding, complex media environment our students face every day.

To help your students battle misinformation, talk to them about how to become a savvy information consumer. Below are some strategies.

1. Vet news sources

In the age of social media, many find it easier to pass along a provocative headline from a feed than evaluate or even read an article. But heeding the phrase consider the source has never been more important. Tell your students to think about where the news came from. A piece of news is only as good as its publisher’s integrity and dedication to true journalism, and social media feeds are notorious for transmitting unsubstantiated news items.

Teach students about the difference between professional journalists, who subscribe to an ethos of integrity and truth-telling, and bloggers or biased news sources, which are looking for “likes” and “follows” and ratings.

Explain how to cross check a source by reading what other entities say about it. There is a reason The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are respected news sources. While they come from differing sides of the political spectrum, both subscribe to professionalism in their reporting.

Show your classes the difference between, say, abcnews.com and abcnews.com.co, which is an illegitimate knock-off of the real news source. Tell them to read the About section on the news site to learn about the publisher’s mission.

Finally, explain why they should pay attention to bylines. If a reporter has published in several reputable sources, they are likely legitimate. Likewise, if the reporter’s email address goes through the source’s server, that’s another tip that the story and reporting are solid.

2. Pay attention to quality

Any reputable reporting source will not contain obvious spelling or grammatical errors (although the occasional typo or usage error always slip through). Show students that legitimate news sources have an entire section devoted to correcting themselves.

3. Check attributed sources

True journalism relies on informed sources, so who journalists quote and why is a sure-fire way to ratify a statement. Is the quotation attributed to a vetted authority on the subject? Likewise, if there is a lack of quoted sources in an article, that’s a big tell—journalists always rely on sources to tell a news story. No quotes = sketchy reporting.

4. Visit a fact-checking site

Many fact-checking sources have cropped up to help citizens discern fake from real. FactCheck.org, International Fact-Checking Network, or Snopes.com can help identify the veracity of facts.

Finally, pass along this terrific 10-step handout from ProQuest to your students. Helping your learners differentiate between real and fake news may be one of the most important takeaways from any college class.


Looking for additional teaching tips you can use in your own course? Check out some of our other posts.