It looks like anti-vax misinformation, promoted over the last several years on social media, is suddenly the focus of the robust challenges that will be needed to help people understand the dangers of going without immunizations.
The challenges to the scientific information on vaccinations and scientific knowledge offer a real-life learning opportunity, one that parents and educators can use to help young people understand the perils of distorted information, the power of social media to distort facts, and the need for reliable digital sources. The video below, Fool House Rock, is a resource to help people learn about some of the reasons why individuals believe vaccination misinformation on social media. Continue reading “Misinformation Does Not Have to Rule”→
Ethan Lindenberger grew up in an anti-vaccine (anti-vax) family, surrounded by misinformation, but at age 18 he decided to get his vaccinations despite his parents’ protests. He testified before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on March 5, 2019, describing how anti-vax misinformation affected his life.
If you think a lot about fake news these days, and if you aim to help your students or family members develop the ability to effectively evaluate and decide what’s real and what’s not, National Public Radio (NPR) just published an excellent article, Fake or Real? How to Self-Check the News and Get the Facts. This piece highlights six steps that individuals can use to judge the stories they encounter, and the article includes a detailed description about how to go about following through with each step.
The entire NPR post, which is chock full of helpful information, will be a useful teaching tool for anyone who wants to gauge a news item’s authenticity, and the six basic steps are easy to master. Post the list near computers, on the refrigerator, and in rooms where family members use digital devices and on digital devices’ note pads.
It happens to me all the time on social media. I see something interesting that connects with what I like or want to believe, start to read it, and then I immediately start to share it with my friends. I’m learning, however, to think more about it first. Now I’m spending more time considering whether what I see and read comes from a reputable news source or if some of the details in the article can survive a fact check.
A few days ago at the public library, I overheard two teachers talking excitedly about a curriculum unit that they were developing. As the discussion progressed, they also began noting their frustration with the cavalier attitudes students demonstrate toward online resources. I was not surprised by the conversation.
Young people who are growing up today seem to navigate effortlessly through digital materials—learning resources, games, publications, websites, and apps—but we adults often forget their limited fluency when it comes to identifying the quality, reliability, and credibility of information. If they are to become good evaluators kids need lots of practice and plenty of time spent observing adult models.
When students make garden-variety searches on Google, teach them to investigate and ask questions about what they find, especially if they are planning to use a website to learn more about a topic. The strongest 21st Century learners will make the process of asking evaluative questions second nature — examining each and every site before deciding whether or not to use the information.
Wikipedia is cool, Wikipedia is filled with information, and Wikipedia is great fun to visit.
That said, reminding children about the authority of references and the expertise of authors — whenever children begin research — is an important part of teaching and parenting. A critical 21st Century and life skill is understanding how to go about judging the quality of references and especially learning how to figure out when information is not up to snuff.
If students start out a project by looking up a topic on Wikipedia, and many of them do, they should hear — over and over at every age — about the importance of seeking out and reading other resources to confirm the facts. Adults, too, need to make this a habit.
A new book, Wikipedia: 3.5 Million Articles and Counting, offers parents and educators a great opportunity to read together and learn more — lots more — about Wikipedia. Author Heather Hasan writes in detail about the history and philosophy of this mammoth open-source encyclopedia, explaining how Wikipedia works and describing how the editors keep track of new entries, edits, and re-edits.
Hasan points out the ways that Wikipedia writers occasionally argue over topics, and she notes that editors often decide to lock down a subject or entry. Other short sections of the book share Wikipedia facts and myths, a glossary, and several pages of bibliographic references.
If you read this book with children in your family or students in your class, be sure to have continuing conversations, both while reading the book and afterwards, about the importance of expertise and authority, pointing out that another reason to confirm the facts — aside from worrying about misinformation — is to learn whether even the experts disagree.
An excellent Wikipedia documentary, Truth in Numbers, is available at Amazonand includes interviews with many of the people who have helped the Internet to develop and grow — the movers and shakers of the World Wide Web.