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Let's Stop Using The Term "Fake News" - A FREE Media Literacy Vocabulary Activity

When writing Fact VS Fiction, Darren and I debated whether or not to use the term Fake News in the title. Then we tossed around the idea of putting it in quotes to indicate our strong belief that the term itself has started to smell fishy; a stink stemming from those who have coopted it to discredit anyone or anything that doesn't confirm their own beliefs.

"I disagree with what you are saying. FAKE NEWS!!!" - Very Lazy Person

In the end, we decided the words Fake News belonged in our book BECAUSE we wanted to discuss these very issues, (and so many more) within its pages. But that doesn't mean it still belongs in our media literacy vocabulary. In fact, we think it's time to stop using it altogether, but ESPECIALLY when we work with learners to help them become digital detectives and information skeptics.


Journalist Tim Dickinson tweeted about this back in 2016, challenging his readers to be more precise when identifying what makes an individual news story suspect.

And while we agree with Tim, we also know that this can be easier said than done when faced with the reality that there's a lot of overlapping characteristics between the different shades of false information. For example, as the old Southern saying goes, "you can't swing a dead cat these days without hitting some clickbait." (Or something like that.). Clickbait is a go to strategy for the creators of satire, propaganda, conspiracy theory and even professionally vetted journalism, because (NEWS FLASH!) people click on it! And clicks matter, because that's how the money is made (more on this later). And while this makes our jobs as information interrogators more difficult, there's also a really important conversation to be had (with ourselves our friends, our colleagues, our crazy relatives and, most importantly, with our students) about why this is true.


In the United States, (along with other places in the world), the idea of a free and independent press is so woven into the fabric of citizenry that it's easy to forget that journalists are not public servants. Journalism in a commercial enterprise that relies on profits for survival in a world that is, by and large, no longer willing to pay for information. Couple that with the rise of citizen journalists, the 24 hour news cycle and the race to be first with a story overshadowing the need to be accurate, and it's easy to see how the lines get blurred - even for those who work tirelessly to adhere to a journalistic code of ethics.


If there's one lesson to be learned from all of it this, it's that we cannot simply lump news sources into neatly labeled categories indicating their trustworthiness. The onus is on us to be on the lookout for signs that a story might be false or created to deceive. We have to be diligent when it comes to triangulating sources of information, especially if they trigger our own biases, and we have to do all of this while always remembering that when we share something, we endorse it.


Whew. That's a lot! But the good news is, we don't have to do it alone.

Each bubble in the web represents a learner!

Which brings me to an aha moment from a few weeks ago, when I found myself learning about movement in the classroom from PE teacher extraordinaire, Mike Morris. One of the ideas that Mike shared with us was that of a human word web - an activity in which learners move around the room to make connections between important vocabulary and related descriptors. I immediately thought that this was something that could be applied to helping kids understand the vocabulary needed to identify different types of misleading information that we find in the news (and online in general) while also supporting the goal of eradicating "fake news" as a way to describe them.


Over the last couple of weeks Darren and I have been working to create a media literacy version of this activity, and we're finally ready to share it! You're welcome to adapt and use this with your learners in whatever way works best for you. We just hope you find it useful.


A few things to note:

  • When you click this link, you'll be forced to make a copy. Once you make a copy, you can edit it as you want.

  • Instructions for printing the cards can be found in the presenter notes of the last slide.

  • We'd love to see your adaptations, if you decide to change it for your teaching context. Please share your versions and implementation with us on Twitter by tagging us (@jenniferlagarde / @dhudgins) and by using the hashtag #factVSfiction.

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