Like most everyone else in education circles, I read the report from Stanford University a few months ago and was horrified by the results. Like everyone else, I fretted and I rang my hands for a couple of weeks, then I racked my brain for a month more, and then on Tuesday I gave a presentation to seventeen teenagers on the topic of fake news and media literacy, and I am relieved to say that it actually went quite well!

So, in the spirit of giving, of resistance, and in fighting ignorance at every turn, I also decided to transfer the bulk of my presentation’s content into a post so everyone can review it, rework it, and make their own!

Please bear in mind, this is one of my first-ever educational presentations, so it’s by no means perfect, either in content or in structure. It’s as un-biased as I could make it but it’s not totally neutral when it approaches certain areas of discussion. That’s actually one of the nuggets that I was hoping to share with the teens – that everyone and everything has a point of view, but that the more facts you omit and truths you sugar coat, the further away from a normal point of view you move and the closer to a dangerous agenda you get. So this is me, acknowledging my bias. I don’t like virtually anything 45 has said or done (except that term limits for congress would be rad) leading up to or post election, and that probably comes across in some of my information. However, I did try to present as many facts about the situations surrounding him and as little interpretation as possible.

Anyway, I digress. If you’re interested in learning about fake news or teaching others, what follows is a series of suggested areas to focus on, a slew of discussion questions for each area, and a few pointed facts for your consideration. The questions are mostly open-ended and unanswered here because, as stated, they’re intended to start a discussion and allow kids to participate and take partial ownership of the lesson, but if you’re planning to teach the topic, just have your own answers and definitions on hand if there’s no response or there’s a super wrong answer thrown out.

Also, definitely don’t just take my word for it (who am I to you, anyway? Possibly just a rando librarian in Rhode Island who very occasionally blogs – personally, I think you should trust me as a credible source of information, but  you shouldn’t always believe everything you read!) and definitely do a little of your own research. I found these sites tremendously helpful:

  1. PBS Lesson plan: How to teach your students about fake news (which was amazing, and I literally couldn’t have gotten started without it)
  2. Stanford’s own Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning (which provides some examples/exercises you can print out)
  3. Common Sense Media: Identifying High-Quality Sites
  4. How to Teach High-School Students to Spot Fake News from Slate
  5. The Library’s Role in a “Post-truth,” “Fake News” Era from Proquest
  6. Project Look Sharp
  7. School Libraries Fight Fake News
  8. Gustavus Adolphus College’s LibGuide
  9. Indiana University East’s LibGuide
  10. Central Washington University’s LibGuide

We started with the simplest ice breaker of all, an inverse of Two Truths and a Lie. I taped up three news stories and asked them to identify which one of the three is the real one by sticking post-it notes to it. Once that was over, we jumped right in to the…

– What is media? What is literacy?
– Why does it matter?
Key Terms
Propaganda – Ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, or a government
Clickbait – Content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visits on a link to a particular web page
Echo Chamber – Any forum for communication in which all members agree with everyone else
Satire – The use of humor or exaggeration to expose and criticize people’s stupidity, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other issues
  • Clickbait has provocative and misdealing headlines and also usually presents itself in the form of slide shows, and authors get paid for every click on the site/article.
  • Your social media accounts are echo chambers because you are probably following and being followed by people who think the same as you and like the same things as you.
  • “Defriending” someone when you disagree with them just enhances the echo chamber because you are eliminating the challenge to your own beliefs (but this doesn’t mean you should be friends with someone who is actually mean to you)
Key Terms  – Images (Above)
– Which is an example of propaganda? Click bait? Echo chamber? Satire?

– How can you tell?

The 2016 Election and You – Discussion Questions
– Where did you get your news about the election? Where do you get your news in general?
– Why is there growing concern surrounding fake news sites?

Note: If anyone responds with “social media,” can they name the specific platform and news source thereon?
– Do you think it’s problematic if people can’t distinguish between real news and propaganda? Explain.
– How do you think fake news could influence individuals’ beliefs or even presidential elections?
– What (if anything) should these companies/social media sites do about fake news sites?
– What’s the problem with putting all your trust in social media companies curating the best sources for you and not using your own brain?


Top 20 Election Stories Chart
-Why do you think there was such a sharp rise in fake news and decline in mainstream news stories being shared?


Where are these stories coming from?
– Adults (and teens!) in Macedonia
– Adults (and teens) in the US via work as “journalists” or freelance writers, but also personal blogs and other social media outlets
– From the dawn of humanity until the early millennium, we created a LOT of information since then, we have been creating that same amount approximately every week

Why are they being created?
– Money, power, fame
– Information is currency, fake news is counterfeit
– False news is bad reporting, editing, fact checking, fake news is intentional and malicious

Why is this such a problem now?
– Fake news is a very old problem – even the Founding Fathers used to spread leaflets about each other having affairs and STDs and all sorts of ridiculous things that may or may not have been true, just to make themselves look better, but we have a perfect storm on our hands right now:

1. Decline in trained journalists – a lot of people look at news as just another branch of the entertainment industry and not an endeavor to seek the truth
2. Ambivalence – a passive group of people is an easy sell for people in power. You have to be passionate, you have to be aware, you have to arm yourself with the truth
3. Media illiteracy – what we’re learning about right now but should be taught in school, in every single class
4. Sophisticated fake news machine – fake websites used to look very obviously bogus, but now it’s easy to make them look sleek and official
5. Proliferation via social media – it’s so easy to share something without even reading it
6. Echo chambers – when you post something and you get a lot of positive feedback, you feel good about yourself and help make you believe that you’re definitely on the right side of the fence (but you may not be)

(Shout out to Kendall Moore and John Pantalone, Associate Professors at URI, for providing this list at a fake news workshop of their own I was lucky enough to attend a couple of weeks ago!)
Hierarchy of Truth
– The power of a story has to do with the power of the machine that generated it
– Our government has never been perfect, and it is unfortunately normal for politicians and businessmen to lie, but it is not normal for them to make up information (or alternative facts) that are clearly inaccurate but pretend and insist that it’s the truth
-Size of crowds (and presence/absence of rain) on inauguration day

A combination of photos taken at the National Mall shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies to swear in U.S. President Donald Trump around noon (L) January 20, 2017 and President Barack Obama around noon (R) on January 20, 2009

Steve Bannon and Alex Jones
– Steve Bannon, former chairman of Breitbart, an alt-right news and opinion site, and now assistant to Trump and White House chief strategist
-What is the alt-right?
– Alex Jones of Info Wars, a fake news and conspiracy website, now may be given seating at White House press conferences. He believes that the Sandy Hook massacre was fake, and that the government was involved in September 11th and that we faked the moon landing.
-If this is who Trump trusts and where Trump is getting his information from, why is this dangerous?

Point of View vs. Agenda
– Everyone and everything has a point of view, even me right now
– Good reporting is as neutral and objective as possible, and acknowledges and corrects mistakes
– Neutrality doesn’t mean reporting falsehoods from the opposite side of the fence

– The more sugar coated the “truth” is, and the more facts are downplayed or omitted, the further away the author moves from a standard “point of view” and closer towards an agenda

Common Domain Names and What They Mean
– .gov, .edu, .org, .com – what do you think these different domain names signify?
– What is a government website trying to make you believe vs. a site for a non-profit organization or a site for a school?
– Do different governments and administrations have different points of view?

– What about a commercial website?
– Where is the money coming from to create this content and who is it going to if you read and/or share it?
  • Note: The crazier a story is, the more viral it will become and commercial websites sell advertising space, so more clicks/views = more money for advertisers and more products sold.
General Tips
– Look for signs of low quality:
  • Glaring grammatical, tpying, or spiling errors
  • Bold claims with no sources, bad sources, or dead links
  • Sensationalist headlines/images/ads
  • Biased language
General Tips
– Confirmation bias is when you already believe that something is true and seek out information that “proves” it, no matter how credible it is.
– Check your emotions – if you’re feeling angry or smug, you might be getting played.
– If it seems too good (or too bad) to be true, check yourself before you wreck yourself
– Who else is reporting this? Check Snopes, Google, or ask your librarian!
Photoshopping and Reverse Image Search
– Sometimes it’s easy to tell if something has been photoshopped, but other times not so much
  • Would the President of the United States be speaking live to CNN at 10:28pm, if it wasn’t an emergency situation?
  • Where’s the ticker that’s usually scrolling at the bottom of the screen on CNN?
  • Is the banner straight or slanted?
  • Why isn’t there a space after the colon and before the quotation mark?

Top Fake News of 2016

  • Does seem like a reputable source for this topic?
  • Jimmy Rustling of “ABC News” is not actually from the real ABC News, but a fake website designed to look/sound like it’s real (
  • What are some red flags with the Beyonce headline?
    – Capital letters, the accent mark in Beyonce’s name is faked with an apostrophe
  • The post by Dave Weasel is satire, but was taken seriously
Other Notes:
  • Contact/About Us section or Author Bio should be present, transparent, sensible, and have actual ways to connect with the author or organization if you have questions or comments
  • If the author’s bio says they’ve won “a million awards” or makes another outlandish claim, does that seem feasible?
  • If something is coming from a major broadcasting channel like ABC News, does it make more sense for them to be stationed in an urban city or in rural Montana?

Good News Sources Are Your Good Friends

  • Pick your news sources like you’d pick your friends
    Someone you’ve probably known for a while and trust
  • Reliable; always knows what’s up, but doesn’t share made up gossip
  • Someone fair but real with you; they don’t just tell you exactly what you want to hear all the time
  • Not too dramatic
  • This doesn’t mean you can’t ever make new friends or check out new news sources – new good sites pop up now and then, just proceed with caution

Questions to Ask Yourself
1. What is this? News, an opinion piece, satire, an advertisement masquerading as something else?
2. Who made this?
3. Who is the target audience?
4. Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
5. Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
6. What is left out that might be important?
7. What are the sources and are they credible?

So that’s all, folks. For now, that is. In reality, I already have a lot of other ideas brewing for other presentations/lessons I want to try out, like these:

  • Corporate mainstream media problems (how they all have a bottom line as well and sometimes don’t cover news stories fully enough (or at all) if it doesn’t serve their best financial interests (DAPL, Bernie Sanders’ campaign early on), and also how they are now competing with sensationalized fake news headlines so they are being sort of forced to imitate the style of those headlines in order to gain attention and keep up)
  • Blogs – determining credibility and purpose, when and how to effectively use Tweets
  • How easy it is to photoshopping images and quotes together, the creation of memes
  • Gaslighting and Alternative Facts and the undermining of science and truth
  • Wikipedia as a valid starting point, not an ending point
  • Basic political platforms and their implications
  • Trump’s Tweets and general persona and how it is turning the long-held idea of what is presidential behavior on its head
If anyone has any suggestions for how to make anything I shared here better, I welcome feedback, links, questions, all of it.
Go forth and resist, y’all.

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