Our Kids Can’t Tell The Difference Between Real And Fake News, And That’s A Problem

by Mike Julianelle
Image via Shutterstock

A new study reveals that kids from middle school to college can’t tell when news stories are bogus

With apologies to Pete Townshend and The Who, apparently the kids aren’t all right. At least not when it comes to deciphering bullshit.

An article on NPR sheds light on the disconcerting inability of the younger generation to tell the difference between actual, verifiable news stories and apocryphal nonsense. Even worse, they don’t when they’re being sold something!

The study, from research at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, surveyed 7800 students across middle school, high school and college students, and asked them evaluate information delivered via tweets, comments, and articles. The survey found that the kids showcased a “stunning and dismaying consistency” when it came to believing online sources, regardless of their credibility.

If you think this is scary, especially given the recent slate of stories concerning fake news sources online and how they may have helped swing the election, you’re not alone. The researchers themselves called the results of the study a “threat to democracy.” The students were unable to parse the credibility gap from the actual verified Fox News Facebook account and an unverified Facebook page meant to look like Fox News.

“Only a quarter of the students recognized and explained the significance of the blue check-mark, a Stanford press release noted. “And over 30 percent of students argued that the fake account was more trustworthy.”

We’re used to assuming that the younger generation is so savvy when it comes to technology and social media, but this study reveals the exact opposite, and that’s a scary thought. Kids consume so much information, from so many different places, that the need for sophistication when it comes to reading comprehension is more important than ever.

The ugly issue of fake news wouldn’t be an issue if more people were able to spot the difference, but judging by this study, it seems like it’s only going to get worse.

The study also indicated that middle schoolers can’t tell shit from shinola, particularly when it comes to native ads. More than 80 percent of them, despite the stories being labeled as sponsored content, took the content at face value, not realizing the inherent bias in a story written by a brand attempting to sell something.

Which might actually be good news, provided I’m able to quickly finish my advertorial about the benefits of doing your chores without complaining.