Embrace online learning but be wary of fake news

The advent of the Internet has revolutionized learning. From elementary school where students access interactive and educational online activities and teachers encourage online research, through to colleges and universities where entire courses are offered virtually and learners thrive in a digital environment. Even for those of us not enrolled in school, we all seek out new information online and the Internet is our own personal gateway to learning.

Considering today’s environment where information, news, opinions and resources are a simple click away – and the fact that literally anyone can publish information online, reputable or otherwise – it’s important that we educate ourselves on how to spot fake news, poor resources and misinformation in today’s connected world.

In honour of a new school year and National Online Learning Day on September 15 – which celebrates our ability to learn online – here are three tips to help you spot fake news and score an A+.  

  1. Is the site reputable? When reading up on the latest political dispute or environmental concern, explore the website to learn more about the source of the news. Is there an ‘About Us’ section with a clearly defined mandate and contact information? You should also pay attention to the domain name – if it looks strange (for example, ends in a .co instead of a .com) you may be on a fake news or satirical news site.
  2. Who is the author? As mentioned, literally anyone with an Internet connection can post content online. Before diving deep into an article or resource when you’re looking for hard facts, investigate the reputability of the author. Are they an expert in the field? Have they published similar content before? Is this person credible? Content presented without an author can also be a warning sign.
  3. Is the content high quality?  Think critically when you’re reading.  Aside from grammar and spelling mistakes, other signs of fake news include titles meant to grab your attention or encourage you to click for more information. Stories authored to evoke a strong emotional reaction or claims made without factual evidence or legitimate sources should also be considered red flags. Something else to ask yourself – does the author present the complete picture or an overly biased view? Before buying into the story, check other sites to see if the information being presented is communicated elsewhere online.

Lastly, when you’re learning online, reading, researching and taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge the Internet has to offer, always ask yourself – how and where did I stumble upon this article? Fake news can be common on many social media sites and even the phoniest of stories can go viral, gaining traction with millions of shares in minutes. Before you share and contribute to the fake news sweeping across the Internet, keep these tips in mind and think twice before you post.

To learn more about how to recognize fake news online visit the MediaSmarts website. MediaSmarts, along with the Canadian Teachers Federation, works hard to teach kids and teens digital and media literacy skills, and TELUS Wise is proud to be the Platinum Sponsor of MediaSmarts’ upcoming 2018 Media Literacy Week (November 5-9). The week will put fake news in the spotlight with its theme, “Fact or Fake: Help the World Stop Misinformation in Its Tracks.”