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Academics say ‘fake news’ lessons needed

UK researchers have called for universities to teach how news spreads online to help students distinguish ‘fake news’, such as those stories proliferated last year in the US Presidential election and EU referendum.

In December a man opened fire on a Texas pizza shop falsely reported to be hosting a child sex-ring run by Hillary Clinton.

This led to US universities highlighting and combatting the threat of ‘fake news’ through creation of search engine ‘Hoaxy’, showing how specific stories had spread online and performing related fact-checking. Filippo Menczer, director of Indiana University’s Centre for Complex Networks and Systems Research which created ‘Hoaxy’, stated, “in the past year, the influence of fake news in the US has grown from a niche concern to a phenomenon with the power to sway public opinion.”

Google and Facebook have also prohibited websites that post fake news from using their advertisement services.  The perils of ‘fake news’ have now been recognised in the UK, as Open University academics work on releasing a series of educational resources on the subject for universities to use as a bolt-on module.

“How information flows through social media isn’t something that comes intuitively”, Phillip Seargeant, Open University researcher, commented. He said, “Our research shows that learning skills to discern what is fake or not more broadly could be very useful in wider society.”

Certain researchers argue that university is too late in an individual’s life, and these vital skills should be taught at secondary, and potentially primary-education level.

However Gavin O’Donnell, fourth-year student at UEA, supports the idea: “Universities are ideally placed to teach students how to spot fake news: they already teach about referencing and plagiarism so it could easily work alongside. If we want to create a society that is tolerant and open-minded, people need to know how to look critically at the media and spot when they are being lied to.”

17/01/2017

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