Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there's a difference.
As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of "Pope endorses Trump " headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.
"I think only education can solve this problem," said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.
Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.
"It hasn't been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there's so much going on out there," Lauro said, "but it's difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I'm afraid sometimes that they think I'm being political when really I'm just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like 'Oh, you're anti-this or -that.'"
Leave it to our heroic public school teachers to take on yet another almost impossible responsibility that the children's parents are ill equipped or simply unwilling to take on themselves.
Fortunately for the teachers there is also some help coming from both Google and Facebook who promise to do their part in identifying and rejecting fake news sites and making it harder for impressionable young minds to stumble upon them.
Would have been nice to have all of this happen before the 2016 election put that shitgibbon in the White House, but I guess it's better late than never.