The Post-Truth Era – Part 1

Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 was post-truth as defined as “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less  influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

This week’s class discussion focused on the new and emerging challenges of literacy in a fake news world or if you will, a post-truth world. Many of my classmate’s presentations this week discussed how fake news spreads rampantly compared to factual articles and that fake news stories tend to have some sort of flair or novelty, thus appealing to the emotions and personal beliefs of their readers.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, it isn’t just a big deal for journalism, fake news is attacking the foundations of democracy by hacking into the human psyche in a way that has not been done before. Fake news is eroding epistemological and ontological values and understandings in humanity’s worldviews. In his article How the Business of the Digital Age Threatens Democracy , Aiden White (2017) references the BBC’s Grand Challenges for the 21st Century where many experts “named the breakdown of trusted information sources as a primary threat” in the 21st century.

Aiden White (2017) writes about the business model of the digital age,

“Using sophisticated algorithms, bots and turbo-charged distribution systems and fed by limitless databanks providing personal access to millions of subscribers, this business model thrives on “viral information” that can deliver enough clicks to trigger digital advertising. It matters not whether information is true or honest or whether it has public purpose; what counts is that it is provocative and stimulating enough to attract attention. Digital robots are useful but they can’t be encoded with ethical and moral values. Clearly, the best people to handle ethical questions regarding online content are sentient human beings, however the digital business model eschews any significant role for journalists and editors to do this work. The development of business models driven by algorithms which put clicks before content has created a new culture of communications in which truth and honesty is obscured by fake news, bigotry and malicious lies; and it legitimises a political space that encourages ignorance, uncertainty and fear in the minds of voters. These realities raise bigger questions about fake news that not only concern the future of journalism but also the nature of democracy itself”.

It is a big job then, for parents and teachers to tackle the big business of the digital age. Anthony Golding (2007) in Fact or Fiction: Fake News and Its Impact on Education writes that “Students armed with a positive skepticism of fake news can become change agents rather than victims”. In The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News the author states “falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories”. In all elementary classrooms, reading comprehension is a big deal. But in this “post-truth” world, simply understanding what we read is not enough. Young people must be taught the necessary skills for not just understanding what they read but being able to interpret the validity, quality and credibility of the sources they read. They must be able to analyze the difference between real and mis-information.

Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News (CagleCartoons.com 2016)

So, where do we start?

In Jaimie and Jocelyn’s vlog, they discuss a video called The Problem with Fake News on the 5 Cs of Critical Consuming (context, credibility, construction, corroboration and compare).

The video argues (and I agree) that critical thinking citizens are good for democracy and democracy is good for everyone. Jaimie and Jocelyn also included this infographic to help teachers, parents and students begin to spot fake news:

Last week on Twitter and in our EC&I832 Google+ Community, I posed this question:

My students are too young to analyze most news articles because it is above their current reading ability but I would like the opportunity to incorporate this topic into our discussions at school.

My friends and classmates came back with the following ideas/resources:

Other ideas welcome!

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2 thoughts on “The Post-Truth Era – Part 1

  1. Your mention of reading comprehension not being enough anymore, as we teach our students about reading, really made me think how that would look in my grade 2 classroom. Much of the year in grade 2 is spent developing skills for comprehension, for some that can take all year and beyond. I wonder if our younger students would be able to tackle fluency, comprehension and deciphering the truth all at the same time?

    • Nicole, it is definitely something to think about. I teach grade 3s and 4s and much of what we do is focused on developing comprehension skills, just like you! The problematic thing for me is that I find the kids coming to school and sharing misinformation they have seen online. I find this is particularly true with pictures they have seen and believe to be true. We have been doing some work looking at photoshopped images to decide if something is real or fake and if it is fake why the author/photographer might have created the image. I would certainly suggest that deciphering the truth fits more heavily in the higher grades but I find I can debunk some of the myths the kids bring to school just by examining some images and getting them thinking about how not everything they see online is real.

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