Education chief: ‘We must expose fake news’

Just not true: Five fake news stories which have been widely shared in recent months.

An expert says children should be taught to deal with fake news. A professor says made-up stories may improve journalism. Fake news has worried many people, but could it be a good thing?

Fake news has been a problem since at least 1939. But the problem of made-up news stories has gained much more global attention recently.

Last year, a fake news story suggested Denzel Washington thought Donald Trump should be president. Others said Germany had made child marriage legal and there were drugs in Los Angeles tap water.

This weekend, one of the world’s leading educators said schools should tackle this problem. Andreas Schleicher, the director of education at the OECD, said: “Distinguishing what is true from what is not is a critical skill today.” He added that teaching should help children analyse information so they can tell fact from fiction.

Many fake news stories were shared on social media during last year’s US election. They have been connected to belief in conspiracy theories, and even to violent incidents.

Meanwhile the public has been losing trust in traditional media. But could new teaching techniques be part of a fightback?

Last week Charlie Beckett, a journalism professor, said fake news had led more media companies to check facts and disprove myths. He also said it made people more interested in understanding stories in the news. In journalism, he said, “fake news is the best thing that has happened for decades”.

Faking it

He is right, say some. Fake news will force the press to be honest and to do valuable work. More people will be interested in seeking the truth. And the public — especially the young — will learn to question their information and take nothing for granted.

Nonsense, say others. Fake news encourages people to believe things that are untrue, make bad choices and mistrust each other unfairly. If people never know the facts, they will believe nothing. And it is too difficult to make laws to stop it being spread on social media.

You Decide

  1. Could you tell the difference between a fake news story and a true or accurate one?

Activities

  1. In pairs, write a list of 10 questions you would ask before you read a news story, to help you work out how true it is.

Some People Say...

“The human brain can turn any crisis into an opportunity.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Fake news, you say? How do I know this isn’t fake news?
Groups such as the Pew Research Centre have found that the number of people getting their information from social media has grown dramatically. New technology has made it easier to promote fake news stories. And respected journalists have investigated less reputable websites and found they were sharing many fake stories.

Word Watch

1939
In the months before the second world war John Morris, a British MP, asked the prime minister to punish those organisations which published “demonstrably fake news”.
OECD
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — a group of over 35 countries, including many of the richest in the world.
Social media
Schleicher says fake news encourages “echo chambers” — areas where people only hear opinions they agree with.
Trust
Tabloid journalist, estate agents and cabinet ministers are the three least trusted professions in the UK.