Podcast: Future Skills for Fact-Checking Online Fakes

37 Min Read
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In an era where “fake news” and false information is rampant online, today’s episode of the Shaping the FutureTM podcast series addresses how we can ensure all students are media literate. Our host, Dr. David Dockterman, is joined by Katy Byron, Editor and MediaWise Program Manager at The Poynter Institute, and Erik Palmer, Author, Former Teacher, and Consultant for HMH’s Into Reading and Into Literature programs. Tune in to hear about resources that exist to help educators teach this complex and ever-evolving subject and about the role social media can play in teaching media literacy in context?

HMH Podcast: Episode 3 of Shaping the Future

Shaping the Future is hosted by Dr. David Dockterman, better known as “Dock”—an education lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education—as he talks to both education experts and thought leaders from other industries. Together, Dock and the co-guests will examine leading issues from across the K–12 industry and offer insights for educators to best “shape the future of education.”

You can follow Shaping the Future wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

A full transcript of the episode is below. This episode was recorded via phone.

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the guest and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

Expert Insights: Developing Media Literacy Programs in Schools

Onalee Smith: Welcome to HMH Learning Moments, a production of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’m Onalee Smith, I work at HMH, and this is our third episode of Shaping the Future. Here, we’ll examine leading issues in K-12 education and hope to inspire new innovations based on what other industries are doing successfully. Our host is Dr. David Dockterman, also known as “Dock”, who is a lecturer at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. In today’s episode, we’re covering media literacy in this era of “fake news.” Dock is joined by Katy Byron, Editor and Program Manager for MediaWise at The Poynter Institute, and Erik Palmer, an author, former teacher, and consultant for HMH’s Into Reading and Into Literature programs. Now, I’ll turn it over to Dock.

Dr. David Dockterman (Dock): Technology has accelerated the pace of change in the world, and education seems constantly to be playing a game of catch up. What world are we preparing our children to engage with? I myself read articles about how today's kids and adults need, along with old-fashioned literacy, digital literacy, data literacy, and our topic for this conversation, media literacy. To help us sort through what media literacy is, why it matters, and what to do about it, we have two fabulous guests. Katy Byron is a third-generation journalist and winner of the prestigious George Peabody Award. Katy has worked across media at CNN, CNBC, and Snapchat. She is now with the Poynter Institute, serving as the editor and program manager for MediaWise. While Katy brings her journalistic experience to this topic, Erik Palmer brings both workplace and classroom lenses to it. Erik was Teacher of the Year in one of the most prestigious school districts in the country. And he now shares his expertise in navigating and communicating in a digital world with companies and schools across the country. I value this mix of perspectives and I want to launch this conversation by asking Katy and Erik to help me understand what media literacy today is all about. After all, the use of propaganda* and misinformation to influence people's beliefs and behaviors isn't new. The Athenians bad mouthed the Spartans. Snake oil salespeople have always been with us. The need to distinguish between true and misleading is timeless. What makes media literacy urgent now, even though the fundamentals seem the same as always?

[*Note from Dock: Check out this treasure from the American Historical Association for an example of what “media literacy” looked like in 1944.]

Erik Palmer: It used to be the case that you had to seek out misinformation. You know, I went to the store and when I was checking out, I would see the Weekly World News and find out that Bat Boy was discovered a mile beneath the earth. Half man, half bat. Now the access to that kind of information is so much easier and so more easy for kids to fall down the rabbit hole and get lost in things. The fakes are now much more sophisticated. When I looked at the picture of Bat Boy, it was pretty easy to think that's cheesy. That's some kind of doctored photograph. But someone wrote in The New York Times that The Lion King was the scariest thing they’d ever seen because it appears like animals in their natural habitat are speaking intelligently to each other [Correction: The piece Erik refers to here originally appeared in The Washington Post]. And if you can make a fake** that wonderful, think of what you can do if you want to make a candidate say something they never said. So, the technology of frauds is much more sophisticated than it was.

[**Note from Dock: Watch this PBS News Hour piece to get a glimpse of the world of “deep fake” videos.]

Katy Byron: I think the fundamentals are changing completely because of the internet. When people say that content is spreading on social media, saying things are going viral, I mean, to me, misinformation and disinformation are like a disease. That's what I think of when I think about people saying that things go viral now, because it can be so damaging when something really misleading and inaccurate can get spread like wildfire. You mention, Dock, that I'm a third-generation journalist. My grandparents, when they were in World War II, working for the army and helping with the communication. They were combating propaganda in pamphlet form. And if that got dumped from a plane flying overhead versus something that's a couple of clicks away, that can get spread to millions of people in a day. The fundamentals have absolutely changed in the past 20 years.

[Note from Dock: Read this quick example from Forbes of accidentally going viral with a fake map of favorite Thanksgiving pies.]

Dock: So, it sounds like there are a few elements in play here. One, it feels like we've moved from maybe an opt in for information to an opt out, that the flood of information is so large and fast at us that we really don't have the same kind of power over it. The power to choose that we had, as you were describing, you know on your way out of the grocery store and there's those magazines that are sitting there enticing you with bizarre stories. That's really a choice. I have time. I can make a choice. Do I want to see this? But today. . . Katy, you talked about the ability to reach a million people in a moment compared to dropping fliers out of an airplane. There's something about the proliferation, the speed, and the sophistication. Erik, you had that last point about the quality of misinformation today is much higher than it used to be.

Erik: You talked about that you used to have a choice. To an extent, that's going away because of the sophisticated algorithms that are used to track people online. Often, I don't make the choice of what to see. That choice is made for me by some algorithm. We've all been there. I had to get my oven repaired. I checked for a part online. I went to some other site to check the weather and there were ads for oven parts. So, people are now making the decision for me about what it is I'm interested in and what I want to see. That it's not just me choosing. Someone is feeding me stories.

Dock: Not even someone, but some black box algorithm that's deciding this is the thing that you should be interested in.

[Read more on Slate about algorithms and how they can impact what content you are served.]

Katy: Kids now spend four to five hours a day on average on their phones. And we hear this firsthand and there are surveys about it. This is not this is not made-up news. This is fact. And so, the information coming to them, because they're using their phones constantly and going through their feeds and I think that the quality of information or misinformation, it is definitely harder to detect what's real and what's not. And because they're just looking through the streams and streams of content, the thing that we're trying to stop with MediaWise is trying to change the behavior of the kids, and hopefully adults too, to help stop them spreading that information, to stop it from going viral. We’re teaching them to think more critically. Like if you see something in your news feed on whatever platform it is, take a second, take a beat, and just take a hard look at this. Maybe do some checking, use lateral reading, one of the skills we teach, opening up tabs and reading laterally. It's so easy to click, retweet, or share. That takes two seconds. But if you take those two seconds and think about, wait a minute, is this something I want to be sharing? Should I really take another minute and figure out if it's real or not? That's the kind of behavior we're encouraging to just improve the ecosystem, because that's something that we have control over. You know, as journalists and citizens, that's what we're looking to do.

[Note from Katy: Read more on media use by tweens and teens ing this 2019 census report from Common Sense Media.]

Erik: We are in a TL;DR era. Too long. Didn't read. And I think we've all been guilty of it. You forward something and the truth is you didn't really read it. I saw something on an educational tweet and it said great article for improving discussions in class. Well, who doesn't want to improve discussions in class? I'll just retweet that. Did I read the article? Uh, no. Was that a good idea to retweet, something I hadn't looked at? Well, it was too long. I didn't want to read it. I think you're wise to slow people down.

Katy: I have a personal goal for myself, truly, and I have for a long time that I don't share something unless I've read the whole thing from top to bottom, no matter how long it is.

Dock: I have the same goal for myself, which is quite a commitment when it comes to academic articles. It takes time to validate the information I feel compelled to pass along. And social media is designed to get us to act fast and often. I want to get to this speed issue, but first I want to address why this kind of literacy matters. Democracy can't survive without access to valid information. Remember our recent episode about civics education and its importance? Democracy depends on citizens making informed decisions. Katy, can I have a minute of passion about why this really matters?

Katy: Oh, man, one minute. That's tough. I think that there is an attack on democracies around the world from misinformation and disinformation right now. This is not a U.S. problem. A great example of this is there’s a journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines. I worked with her a long time ago at CNN. Her small news organization is literally in a battle with the government and they have a true and actual disinformation campaign to discredit her news organization. And she has been arrested multiple times. And she is fighting the fight that I think all journalists around the world are afraid is going to come to their home country. That dictators, governments that are corrupt are going to punish journalists for speaking truth to power. The power of journalism is it's for everyone. This is a service really in a lot of ways. The Poynter Institute where I work is a nonprofit organization. I would I would like to see more news organizations go the route of nonprofit, because most people don't get into journalism to have a rich and lucrative life. They do it because they're passionate about the news and informing the people around them of what's happening in the world. On the local level*, which is the part of journalism that is under the attack the most right now and struggling so deeply. Local newspapers and local TV stations are consolidating or outright closing, creating what we call news deserts, where there are portions of the country that they don't have a local outlet covering what's happening in their community in a nonpartisan way and protecting people from abuse of power. The why it matters thing that I think about the most, honestly, is the anti-vaccine movement**. This is something that I am deeply passionate about because I have a toddler and he's 2 years old, is just starting to go to nursery school. And I live in New York State and one county away is where there is a hotbed of unvaccinated children. People who have believed what they've read on the internet and have stopped vaccinating their children against diseases that have been dormant for decades. And it scares me and makes me emotional that I have to worry about this stuff. And it's because of misinformation and disinformation that they read on the internet. They don't have the skills to learn and figure out what is real and accurate. So that's really what I'm trying to fight.

[Note from Dock: *For more on the state of local news, check out the Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media.

**The World Health Organization identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 health threats for 2019.]

Erik: I want kids to have the skill to know when an article matters. I'm not concerned about all disinformation. If someone believes that next month for the first time in two hundred and thirty-three years, Mars is going to appear to be as big as a full moon, because the way the planets are aligned, I really don't care. Given that it takes so much effort to track down some misinformation, I want kids to be able to choose what's worth tracking down and what's not. And so, someone says Mars is going to be the size of a full moon? Eh. I don't care. Someone says vaccines are bad for you. I better track that one down. There's a lot of effort involved, and I can't expect kids to put the effort into everything. So, part of this skill is to know what to invest in, what is important enough to really check out.

Katy: I agree with that. Although I will say there's some tips that are really quick. You know, reverse image search because images are really abused and manipulated on the internet. If you right click on an image on Chrome and search Google for this image, you can sometimes debunk something on your own super-fast. It literally takes less than a minute. So that's the kind of skills we’re trying to teach. You're totally right that no one wants to take 30 minutes to figure out if something is real or not. They want fast, quick tips, which we really try to emphasize that it doesn't take so long. It can be really quick, just like a couple of clicks and look what you found.

Dock: Katy, thanks for those content validation strategies. Quick is good in this fast-paced world. And Erik, turning kids into discerning consumers of information, able to recognize what claims need to be challenged and examined and which ones we might let slide also seems critical. Katy, you shared examples of undermining the sources of valid information. That's what real journalists do, generate valid information. When that's undermined, it puts democracy at risk. We're seeing that happening in the world. We're also seeing how misinformation can lead to dangerous personal choices. This stuff really matters. Who should be taking responsibility for making sure we get good information?

Erik: We have a responsibility to be informed and we have a responsibility to respect the press. There's a reason why this showed up in the First Amendment, the very first thing they did after the passing the Constitution. We need to have a free press, which means the press is never the enemy of the people. So, we have a responsibility to respect information and we have a responsibility to respect facts. We're trying to create a skepticism of what you see, but not a dismissal of what you see. There's a fine line there because at some point you can say, well, look, it's all fake. Skip it. I don't care. We have a responsibility to avoid that. And so, as citizens with these three responsibilities, then your point is who is in charge of instilling this in our students, I think?

Dock: Well, there's responsibility to go all around. And part of that is what are the responsibilities of educators, but also what are the responsibilities of the organizations that are speeding that information out to us. And is there any accountability that we want to divvy up here? Because I'm totally with you that we as citizens have some responsibility. But what about the infrastructure and organizations out there that are overwhelming us?

Katy: A recent survey from Pew Research Center said that a lot of people, adults in America, think that journalists are responsible for fixing the problem of “fake news,” even if they didn't help create it. So even though maybe we didn't ask for it, a lot of journalists are being kind of tasked with helping fix these problems. And there's actually a huge crop up of fact checking organizations as a result. So, I feel like we are trying to make a difference that way, by fact checking some of this terrible content that gets out there. It's a very disturbing time to be a journalist today, to be honest. And I do think that some responsibility falls on us. But I do think there is some responsibility on teachers.

Erik: Oh, I think there's no doubt about that. It would be great if we could say, hey, Facebook, stop doing this. Stop sending around stuff that’s not true. But that's not realistic. And I don't think we really want to get into the idea of Facebook being the censor for anything that comes through social media, for example. So, the answer has to lie with teachers doing what Katy suggesting they do, educating kids. Years ago, when I started teaching, I found out kids were spending six hours a day watching television and they knew nothing about television. So, I taught the structure of writing a show. Why do shows come in seven-minute segments and how do you wrap up that first seven minutes with some hook that will bring you back after commercials? And what happens during the commercials? What persuasive tricks are being used? What I tried to do was make kids intelligent consumers of the media instead of passive receivers. And I think that's the way out of this problem. We have to educate people to be a little more sophisticated and understand what's going on.

Katy: So many Americans are getting their news from social media. Teens less and less are going to websites, right? They're using social media to get information about what's happening in the world. There are no editors of social media. You know, the newspaper was edited by professional editors. Part of my project are trying to teach teenagers to be the editors of their news feed, which is, I think, a really helpful comparison, but also is really hard to do. You know, so that's why we're teaching kids journalistic fact-checking skills so that they can actually figure out, OK, well, this is something that I'm just going to throw this one out and move on from this one. OK, this one looks reliable. I'm going to take this as fact, something maybe I would share and kind of store in my brain. But the thing that worries me the most is when you're reading something and you're still not sure you do some checking. You lose interest, though, and then that information is already in your brain.

Erik: We have to teach kids about the availability bias. That is, what you see, what's always available to you, is what you tend to believe. So, if I see something over and over and over, vaccines are bad. Vaccines are bad. Vaccines are bad. Vaccines are bad. Which I will see over and over because I'm being fed this now that they have a profile of me as someone who doesn't like vaccines. Well, now it’s the availability bias. All I see is this one topic. And so that's another issue that we have to worry about and teach kids about. Be aware of the availability bias. Just because you see it a lot doesn't mean it's the truth.

Dock: I love the focus here on personal responsibility. That we can't wait for the system to be policed or to police itself, even though those would be useful. It may not even be that realistic. So, we really need to teach kids the skills of reflective skepticism. But it's more than the skills of discerning right or wrong information. It's also the disposition to do that. And I like, Erik, how you’ve talked about teaching kids the way the system works and even the way we work, that we have biases, availability bias, confirmation bias. One of my students called me out on confirmation bias because I was finding research to support my existing theory of action. Right. So, it's like, hey, you're not looking at the conflicting stuff. It's like, OK, fair. Right. So, there's the filter and the skills, but also the disposition to manage those things. And so how do we foster the ongoing behavior of being discerning consumers and bringing a reflective skepticism to information?

[Note from Dock: One person has compiled a list of 175 cognitive biases, so far. I find it a bit overwhelming. More interesting to me is following high-quality research relevant to how we seek, interpret, and respond to information and arguments. I think the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest does a nice job of summarizing that research, and providing links to other sources that can get you started.]

Erik Think about what reading teachers do and have done for decades. A reading teacher traditionally teaches you about ink on paper. And they teach textbook structure. And you had someone teach novel structure, rising action, climax, falling action, and someone taught haiku structure. Reading teachers spend a lot of time teaching the structure of. Well, we have to redefine reading and now teach kids the structure of online reading. What does a hyperlink do? And we've all been in the position where you're checking something for a recipe and a half hour later, you're watching K pop videos of some Korean boy band. How did that happen? The hyperlink trail led me somewhere. Teach kids about the structure of hyperlinks. Teach them about the structure of clickbait. Teach them about the structure of the results they see and how what they've done in the past will inform what they see when they search next time. So, it's another thing. And this, I don't know if there are comments on the podcast, but if there are, this will generate some. It may be time to push The Scarlet Letter aside and teach a little bit more about the structure of online reading, just so kids generally know how the game is played.

Katy: Absolutely. One of the lessons from Stanford's curriculum and there's a really great episode of a series that we partner on with John Green, he’s the best-selling young adult author. He worked with his team to create this Navigating Digital Information series on his YouTube channel Crash Course. And one of the episodes is about how to use Wikipedia in a smart way. It's like every teacher forever and every—I would say every newsroom manager and director forever has said, don't use Wikipedia, but everybody uses Wikipedia and I'm included in that. But there's a way to use it in a smart way. You know, fact checkers go right to the bottom, to the citations. They don't even read what's up top. In MediaWise trainings, we always are also trying to speak their language. You know, all the examples we use about teaching what native advertisements are are in Snapchat, in TikTok, in Instagram. We show screenshots from the platforms and we circle, you see this little word on here that says “sponsored, paid content”. We’re showing them the stuff in the wild that they're looking at every day. We even have kids use their phones. I usually clear with the school first. And we have them pull out their Instagram account and then look at our account and look at an example of misinformation and then we do a live poll, is this is this real or is this not real. Or we say legit or not legit? So, it's like fun for them to, using the stuff that they like to do, kind of in the wild.

[Producer's note: To see MediaWise's fact-checking in-action, follow their social media accounts:

Erik: To Katy's point about Wikipedia, because when I do workshops for teachers, I'll say, do you know what Wikipedia is? And it's been around a long time and most people do not know. I’ll say, “You see this little tab up here: History. What is that? Well, you can see all the times this has been edited in the last year.” And I show the rules of baseball which haven't changed. Mound is still 60 feet 6 inches from the plate. There’s still three outs and then you switch sides. But yet that page on baseball rules has been edited very recently. And then I said, let me show you this. “Do you see this edit tab? We could actually edit this.” And there's amazement like, wait, you didn't know this was how it worked. So, I think a large part of our education needs to be educating people about the system, the ecosystem that we're living in.

[Note from Erik: Take a look at the Wikipedia revision history for baseball rules.]

Dock: So, it's not just the mechanics of a particular information service or website. Those are constantly changing. It's about understanding the underlying structure that runs across all of those services.

Erik: When you get into the realm of social media and certainly kids want to get a lot of likes and want to avoid the fear of missing out. But I think just understanding the structure of what's happening is probably more important than, at the moment, getting into the social-emotional learning aspect of what happens on social media. I'm still interested in making sure we're all clear about how the game is played, what the rules of the game are, what they're trying to do to you, the reader. And we all make mistakes as adults. You find yourself turning the pages of a book and you've turned a few pages and then you realize, wait, I was thinking about something else. I wasn't paying attention to what I was reading. We still do that kind of thing, but we're aware that we do it. I want to create that type of awareness with students. I'm aware that kids spend an average of 19 seconds on a webpage and I want them to be aware and they catch themselves. Oh, I'm doing this pretty quick. He told me that this was going to happen. Got it. Got it. Got it. I'll slow down. I think a whole lot of it just comes from understanding what you're doing and what they are doing to you.

Katy: And I think also appealing to the emotional side of the damage that this kind of spreading something that's wrong can have. I used to work at Snapchat. I was managing editor for news content. I kind of reconnected with some of my old colleagues there. And we partnered for an Our Story, which is a user-generated content that's on the Discover page. And we solicited snaps from across the country with them of kids talking about rumors that have gone viral and the real-world impact that has on teens and the emotional stuff that came out of this. People talking about, you know, this rumor was spread about me and it was like, I don't even want to go to school. Some of the stuff the kids were talking about was really heart wrenching. And we try to emphasize the real-world impact and how it can impact you unless you change your behavior. So that really sticks with them.

Dock: There was a study about, I think it's a fun study, around nutrition. How do you get adolescents to eat healthier food? And telling them that healthier food is better for them and explaining nutrition doesn't seem to move the needle. However, presenting the choice of healthier food as a rebellion against agribusiness, explaining how the system works and how companies will use sugar and other additives to try and make particular snacks addictive? That actually was able to move the needle on driving kids’ choices. It's sort of the same thing here in giving kids a window into how the system works and how companies are in many ways trying to manipulate them, to feed them particular kinds of information. Shifts their perspective, and so it isn't just, hey, make sure that you are responsible in your media. It's like, don't let people take advantage of you.

[Note from Dock: Here's a summary of the nutrition education study.]

Erik: Well, you're talking here, though, I think about a double-edged sword, because what we discover is that sensational sells. If I just give you a news headline: Eating healthy is good for you. No impact. Can I make that sensational? And obviously, advertisers know this. I talked about the structure of television advertising. Let's talk about the structure of online advertising. I need you to click on my page. In order for you to click on my page, I need to do something sensational. A headline like Typhoon Clara hits Tokyo. You already got what you need. You're not going to click on that. But if I say Super Storm to Strike Major City. Well, hang on a second. I better click on that. Or if I say agribusiness is trying to ruin your life. Well, I better click on that. So that's a lesson in how to get eyeballs. But it's also a lesson in kind of the danger of what people do in order to get eyeballs.

Erik: One thing we haven't talked about that I think is a bigger danger than everything we have talked about. Yes, there is what's called fake news and yes, there's misinformation. And yes, we have to teach kids and adults how to identify. But the truth is, I'm less worried about somebody falling for something fake than I am about them failing to accept what is true. And Pew did a study recently. Forty-three percent of people are getting their news from Facebook. And yet 57 percent of those say probably what I'm getting isn't accurate. So, we're moving to the point where we disbelieve everything, which could be an easy default, rather than spend the time trying to track it down. You know what? It's all nonsense. It's all fake. That default, I think, is a real danger. We're going to miss what is true because we're so worried about being duped by what is fake.

Katy: Deep fake videos with the upcoming election does really concern me because they are deliberately manipulated videos to make someone say something that they did not say. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House appeared to be slurring her words when someone slowed down the video, so people thought she was drunk or incoherent. That was something that anybody can do with any kind of media player and then just publish that on the internet. So, I think people manipulating politicians speaking on camera is something that really worries me about our political system and the impact it can have on how people vote.

Erik: I think there's a problem now, but I think there's a way out. When I taught kids about television, they would come to me and say, Oh, Mr. Palmer, did you see that hook that they had last night on The Simpsons or did you see that commercial? Totally using bandwagon. Oh, but I saw the one that use testimonial. They became aware. And so, I think with an educational focus doing things like Katy's organization is doing. Kids can become literate about what's happening now. And I don't think it's necessarily an immediate spiral down the drain.

Katy: Yeah, I agree with that.

Dock: But I do wonder about where this media literacy education fits into a busy curriculum and school day.

Erik: We have to scrape some stuff off the plate. Teachers will say my plate is full. Yeah, but some of that stuff needs to be scraped off. And maybe The Scarlet Letter. But it's not any one person's job. What subject doesn't have people, students, doing online reading? In science, you're going to learn about stem cell research and you're going to have people do research about stem cells. Well, guess what? There's an input for you to do a little bit of media literacy teaching. And in social studies, we're going to study something about the Bill of Rights. Well, guess what? Here's an input for you. And in language arts and reading class. You taught the structure of haiku and that was also taught in seventh grade and in ninth grade and in tenth grade. Can one of you agree to drop haiku and do a little bit about media literacy? So, it fits everywhere. There's not any subject that anybody teaches that is entirely offline. So, everybody has a responsibility to educate themselves so that they can help educate their kids.

Katy: That is precisely how the Stanford curriculum has been developed. It is designed as a whole lesson plan or a la carte. And it's for any subject teacher. So, the math teacher or the calculus teacher, you know, the Spanish teacher, history teacher, English, you name it, they should be able to utilize some piece of it and incorporate it into what they're already teaching. Which I think is, you know, that's the way to go for sure. Really any good journalists ask these questions every single day for a story is: who is behind the information, what is the evidence, and what do other sources say. And I think I spend half of my days talking about who is behind the information. The first question, which is so pivotal, and that's something I think that should be taught super early. You know, what is the motivation behind this person? Is this a reliable source? Before you even get into what they're sharing if it's on a social platform, right? So that's something that is really core to the curriculum that I feel like that's something you can't emphasize enough with kids. You should be looking at who is behind this piece of content that you're looking at before you do really anything else. When we're training our teen fact checkers for MediaWise, it's not something easy, continually telling them, you know, we talked about this in the last story. You didn't answer the question, who is behind the information? You went straight to, like the meme you're trying to attack. But what about who posted it? You know, check out their profile page. Are they verified? Is there maybe some political motivation here? Are they, you know, you need to do some lateral reading and try and figure out what is the real source and the root of that information you're looking at before you even try to check what's in that meme.

Erik: Well, what did we do when we taught kids about biographies or historical books? We taught them about this thing called the bibliography. So why aren't we doing that online? This comes up naturally in what we do. You have kids do research. Find me a teacher that doesn't have kids do research. Well, in the context of that research, you'll have an opportunity to discuss the bibliography, if you will, of an internet page. So, it just needs to become second nature to what we already do as opposed to here's a whole new unit that you have to teach. Can I throw one thing that bothers me? It's the confusion of the word bias with fake. I'm disturbed by the fact that people are saying things that may be biased, are saying fake. For instance, I fly a lot. Airports almost always have CNN. I overheard someone saying, “hmph. CNN. That's fake news.” And I almost wanted to turn and say, OK, tell me which of the stories that you just saw was made up. Never happened. Because none of them were fake. They all happened. Now, you can argue that what they show is a biased version. They show protesters outside the Trump rally, not supporters outside the Trump rally. So, they may be biased, but there actually were protesters. And there actually were supporters. Which you focus on indicates your bias, but bias is not the same as fake. And so, it bothers me when people say, well, I can throw that out, just because it's biased. Biased is not the same as fake.

Katy: The thing that's working to our advantage in terms of like cable news is that kids aren't watching it. So, I don't spend any time talking about cable news in my project and our project is specifically for teens, right? We're targeting 13- to 18-year-olds with MediaWise. So, and they're just not watching TV. They're spending all their time on YouTube, on Snapchat, on Instagram. So, we're looking at what news sources and information they're finding there because they're just not watching it.

Erik: But aren’t they finding Fox News clips and CNN clips and Huffington Post clips at those sites as well?

Katy: Yes. But I think they’re a lot more interested in what social media influencers have to say. We have this thing called the MediaWise Ambassadors program, and that's a group of social media influencers and prominent journalists like Lester Holt and John Green. I mentioned Lester Holt from NBC News Nightly News anchor. They work with us because they believe in the MediaWise project and they help us basically reach more people with our message and the lessons that we're teaching kids. They're basically champions for our cause and they have a ton of teen followers. And that's really. . . that's who I think a lot of kids are getting their news from. You know, news is kind of like. . . it's becoming a more general term than it used to be.

Dock: Are social media influencers replacing journalists as the source for information for kids? And are they still selecting to follow people that they already agree with?

Katy: One thing that's kind of cool that we're working on at Poynter [Institute] is we are developing programs to train social media influencers, media literacy, so that they can teach their own followers and make sure that the information that they are delivering to their millions of viewers is accurate information so that they're not spreading misinformation. So that's kind of one of our other strategies to reach a lot of people with what's true and what's factual and reliable because it's very scalable, too.

Erik: Back to what you were saying, Dock, about the confirmation bias. We will look for things that confirm what we already believe. We'll look for people that confirm what we already believe. And we'll follow people that confirm what we already believe. If you don't believe it, it's fake. That's how that's handled. We just disregard it. And that's an issue. But it's solvable.

Dock: I think that's the big message we want to leave with people: that it is solvable. We all have to take responsibility for contributing to that solution and that to build the capacity for us to understand how the system works, to make sure that we pass on that information to students so that they understand how the system works. And we give them the skills for navigating information and for recognizing hopefully when their biases are in play. And it would be nice if we can get to a point where people feel status gains, status and rewards for not following the clickbait, and not being the first to pass on information without having vetted it and read it themselves. That we can become more discerning and value that more skeptical, but thoughtful response to information. I'm hopeful.

Erik: And it's not something. . . it's not something that has to be solved holistically today. You do it bit by bit and you have everyone contributing. It's not just on you, the teacher listening to this right now. It's partly on you, but it's on everybody. Find some piece that you can work with now and it will all add up at some point later.

Katy: I agree. We’re all chipping away at the mountain together.

Dock: Katy and Erik, I think it makes sense to wrap up this amazing conversation on that positive note. Each of us can and must do our part. I want to thank you both not just for joining this podcast, but for what each of you is doing to contribute to really the preservation of democracy. We have learned that media literacy matters and the situation of information integrity is urgent. Fortunately, there are things we as educators can do. We can ourselves learn how the systems of digital information sharing and social media work. We can help students understand how those systems operate to capture their attention and drive their behaviors. There are materials, like the new curriculum from Stanford that Katy mentioned, that offer insights and strategies, like lateral reading, that help students become more discerning information consumers. And we can foster in practice more self-reflection and self-awareness. Let's all be better at noticing when our biases and natural tendencies are drawing us toward confirming views and away from thoughtful analysis. I know I have work to do. I'm sure you do, too. It's going to take all of us. Thank you for joining this conversation.

Onalee: Thanks for listening and learning with us. You can be the first to hear new episodes of HMH Learning Moments by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. We hope you enjoyed today’s show and will please rate and review and share with your network. You can join our community and read more on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. You can find the link in the show notes. On the blog, you’ll also find a transcript of this episode as well as supporting research, key takeaways, and more. HMH Learning Moments is produced by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Learning Company. Thanks again for listening.


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Erik Palmer is an author on the HMH Into Reading and Into Literature programs. He'll be speaking at the 2019 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in Baltimore, MD, November 21–24. Stop by HMH's booth #611 to say hi!

Read more from Erik Palmer about media literacy on Shaped:

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