Teaching how to weed out fake news

Sonali Bhattacharyya

The world today is in constant danger of being influenced, manipulated and misguided by misinformation and promotions more than ever. The unchecked proliferation of unhealthy information is the result of the spectacular reach of the Internet which makes it possible to publish unmoderated content and circulate them widely through various websites, blogs, micro-blogs, social media profiles, etc. Students with their propensity to remain hooked to the digital world are overly exposed to what has come to be known as ‘fake news’. This term refers to false information purposefully created by agencies with vested interests to spread confusion and misinformation through the web. Such news influences the viewing behaviour of users or audiences on a large scale. Noted media literacy expert, Hugh Linehan writes, “Media is no longer passively consumed – it’s created, shared, liked, commented on, attacked and defended in all sorts of different ways by hundreds of millions of people. And the algorithms used by the most powerful tech companies – Google and Facebook in particular – are brilliantly designed to personalise and tailor these services to each user’s profile.”

(Source: https://www.webwise.ie/teachers/what-is-fake-news/)

If so much of our response behaviour has fallen prey to external forces, time has come for teachers to become mindful of what could be harmful for their young wards. Students who spend a considerable amount of time on the internet, whether for academic engagement or simply for entertainment driven browsing, are most often unwittingly exposed to ‘fake news’, and their young minds eager to absorb every new information around them, thereby making them easy pawns. The need of the hour is to equip them by grooming their critical and creative thinking skills so that they are able to filter out spurious data.

What are the ways in which a teacher could facilitate this process?

To begin with, explain to the class about the two kinds of fake news: stories that aren’t true and stories that have some truth, but aren’t 100% accurate. The former  is where news is deliberately created to make people believe something false, like buying something or visiting a website that may collect personal information or plant a malware. The latter occurs where there is bias. Here are some simple tasks that could be tried out in class, especially for senior secondary grades who are most vulnerable as they are most likely to have access to the Internet:


  • Choose a trending topic in the news to discuss with each other.
  • Give them a newspaper article or news bulletin on the topic and ask to share their response with a partner.
  • Make the whole class examine the same story through different media sources. This will help them align the reportage of the same news in various ways depending upon the author, the intended audience, the emotions involved, and the strategies that are used to engage the reader.

Since it is essential to keep our emotional response to stories that have apparently gone ‘viral’ neutral, we need to be consciously rational and critical of what we read and watch. Here is an effective checklist that students can use. Let them work in groups. Give a news item that is in circulation and make them discuss the following questions:

  • Why has this story been written?
  • Is it to persuade us of a certain viewpoint?
  • Is it selling us a particular product?
  • Is it trying to get us to click on a link to redirect us to another website?

After this, ask each group to present what they have discussed to the whole class. Then put the news item to vote and see whether the class is able to identify the item’s authenticity and neutrality.

Show your class how to check for the source of an item that is in the news. Take a look at the URL to see if it is one of the better known ones. If they end in extensions like .com or .co.uk, then it is likely to be authentic. Also encourage students to read news items from reliable agencies, like some of the popular national and international newspapers, magazines, etc. Design a task like where students have to pick up a news item that has made headlines. Let them work in pairs, browse the Internet, and make a list of all the news agencies that have reported the news item. Then ask them to fill in a chart like this:

News item: …………………………………………………………….                          Date: …………………………………..

In addition to helping learners identify and eliminate fake news, these tasks will also keep them cognitively engaged, develop their critical thinking skills as well as provide practice in using language for defending propositions.

Sonali Bhattacharyya is an English Language Communication and Soft Skills Consultant, Trainer and Content Developer. She has been developing teaching learning material and online training material for Oxford University Press and also been conducting teacher training webinars for resource persons for OUP India.