Ever since the 2016 presidential election, the problem of “fake news” has dominated the national political conversation. Both Republicans and Democrats have railed against what they see as an epidemic of made-up or factually inaccurate stories and the influence they believe those stories have when it comes to swaying public opinion.
Educators, fact checking sites, and even government officials are taking action to fight back against fake news, which some see as threatening democracy. Now, California lawmakers have introduced legislation to require media literacy courses to be taught at the state’s middle and high schools, according to the Associated Press.
Some 64 percent of Americans believe that fake news stories are causing a notable amount of confusion, according to Pew Research Center. However, a majority of Americans are somewhat (45 percent) or very (39 percent) confident in their own ability to identify fake news.
Young people often struggle with recognizing non-credible news, a group of Stanford researchers found. They tested middle school, high school, and college-level students on their news literacy skills through a series of tasks. “More than 80% of students believed that the native advertisement, identified by the words ‘sponsored content,’ was a real news story,” the Stanford History Education Group study, which was conducted in early 2016, claims. “Some students even mentioned that it was sponsored content but still believed that it was a news article.”
Social media has been blamed for the spread of fake news by many observers. And indeed, Pew Research Center has found that 62 percent of Americans get news on social media, and nearly one in three Americans say they see fake news often online. Of course, as Reason‘s Jesse Walker has pointed out, the internet also makes it far easier to debunk myths and fact check dubious claims.
For more on the truth about fake news, check out this piece from the March issue by the University of Miami political scientist Joseph E. Uscinski.