Shockingly large numbers of America’s middle school, high school and even college students are stunningly unable to process the media information that sloshes over them on a daily basis, according to a study released this week by Stanford University’s History Education Group.
The Stanford researchers behind the study evaluated 7,804 students from a very wide variety of backgrounds in 12 U.S. states. Some students attended hardscrabble city schools in Los Angeles, for example. Others attended schools in middle-class Minnesota suburbs. Some were enrolled at Stanford, an elite university with an acceptance rate under 6 percent.
“When it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels,” the researchers behind the study wrote, these kids today are “easily duped.”
For example, the researchers asked participating high school students to look at an Imgur.com photo of some mutant-looking daisies with the caption “this is what happens when flowers get nuclear birth defects.” Almost 40 percent of the high schoolers decided that the photo was powerful evidence of nuclear radiation near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in spite of the fact that the photo actually contained zero evidence suggesting that the daisies were anywhere near the nuclear plant. There was also no indication concerning the photo’s origin.
At the college level, less than a third of the participating students could explain “how the political agendas of MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress might influence the content” of a MoveOn.org tweet alleging that nearly 70 percent of gun owners support political candidates who support gun control.
And as The Wall Street Journal summarizes, 82 percent of all participating middle school students could not figure out if something they saw on the Internet was an actual news story or a “sponsored content” advertisement.
“In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” the Stanford researchers explain.
Notably, The Wall Street Journal suggests that the way to address the disturbingly awful ability of America’s students to interpret Internet media information is to become helicopter parents and limit their exposure to Internet media information.
The Stanford researchers are equally alarmist. “Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed,” they warn, “But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off.”
Since the election of Donald Trump earlier this month, several journalists and left-leaning organizations have blamed the spread of “fake news” stories online for the success of the New York businessman. Calls for social media giants — particularly Facebook — to crack down on supposed “fake news” outlets and stories have increased dramatically.
An assistant professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts has created a list of “fake news” websites that mixes numerous conservative outlets that routinely publish factual news with sites that fabricate stories. (RELATED: Assistant Professor’s ‘Fake’ News List Features Breitbart, Not HuffPo)
Among the sites listed by the professor, Melissa Zimdars, are Breitbart, Independent Journal Review (IJR) and The Blaze. Articles from those outlets can be markedly biased and they may require additional scrutiny, but they still produce authentic news reports. Even so, Zimdars includes them alongside objectively fake news websites like abcnews.com.co and MegynKelly.us.
The list by Zimdars — entitled “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources” — has circulated widely on social media in recent days.
Facebook executives have reportedly discussed whether they should become censors by banning “fake news.”
Legitimate — but politically-bent — media could suffer major traffic and credibility blows if Facebook’s staff decides to use a list such as the one created by Zimdars as a template for censoring posts.
Google has also recently announced a move to combat “fake news.” (RELATED: Google Moves To Combat Fake News)
“We have updated our publisher policies and now prohibit Google ads from being placed on misrepresentative content, just as we disallow misrepresentation in our ads policies,” a Google representative told The Daily Caller last week. “Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property.”
This policy would in effect prevent certain sites from receiving Google Adsense money. Adsense is a significant source of revenue for many sites.
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