‘Everything is worth checking out’: network teaches teens to debunk online myths
The project is an original idea of the nonprofit Poynter Institute, supported by the Google News Initiative. During COVID-19 pandemic, 18-year-old fact-checker Thea Barrett has dispelled misinformation ranging from the harmfulness of face masks and paranoia to contact tracing apps.
The masks do not cause hypercapnia or carbon dioxide poisoning, but rather protect people, she found. Some online users mistakenly believed that contact tracing apps were automatically downloaded to cellphones as a government spy tactic, but in reality people have voluntarily opted to prevent the spread of the virus.
Barrett also verified misinformation that people had to stay 27 feet away from social distancing, as opposed to the 6 feet recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Mediawise’s fact-checking tips help teens spot all kinds of misinformation beyond conspiracy theories, says Alexa volland, multimedia reporter and head of TFCN. Mediawise was originally created to teach teens how to sort fact from fiction online – and the evidence shows High school students struggle with that.
“What makes the Teen Fact-Checking Network unique is that our teens use social media storytelling to virtually guide viewers through every step of fact-checking these claims,” said Volland.
Using Instagram as its primary platform, TFCN teaches teens skills and tools that professional journalists and fact-checkers use, she says. Fact-checkers will share screen recordings of their Google searches, as well as reverse image or video searches, and display the results.
Reverse searches have revealed that photos and videos related to the Black Lives Matter movement have been taken out of context, she says. This type of research can find out if an image exists elsewhere online, if it has been digitally manipulated, or if it is a few years old.
A viral video showed protesters trying to break into the White House, she said, but TFCN discovered the video was from Ohio.
TFCN encourages teens to ask themselves three questions, says Volland: “Who was behind the information? What is the proof? And what do other sources say?
The network encourages young adults to go directly to reliable sources instead of taking information posted on social media as fact, Barrett says. TFCN also asks teens to read the sources on both sides of the aisle to determine what is true.
Instagram poll found 86% of respondents say they are more likely to check the facts for themselves after seeing a TFCN story.
“We certainly took a step back, but we’ve received a lot of positive feedback because people see this misinformation circulating on their timelines,” Barrett says. “And they want to know what’s the truth?” How can I keep my family safe? Is this viral post legitimate? “
As the first voter in November, Barrett says there is a lot of misinformation about candidates and how to vote. With so much misinformation from the Trump administrationIt’s hard to decipher what’s right or wrong, she said.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, she says she sees young people sharing false messages about what police officers or protesters have done. She also sees many posts making incorrect statements about climate change.
This misinformation clings to the fears of young people, she said.
“If something online gives you an intense emotional reaction, it is a clue that it could be misinformation, if it really makes you angry or if it makes you feel validated,” says Volland. “So instead of impulsively sharing, we really encourage teens and everyone to just hit the pause button and make sure they have full context.”
Since teenage timelines are so different from what adults see on social media, Volland says it’s been interesting to see what misinformation targets young people. Media literacy teaches adolescents to consider whether what they are reading is supported by evidence or supported by other sources.
Teens tend to read one source online and move on, but TFCN encourages them to practice side reading – a term coined by the Stanford History Education Group that means opening multiple tabs and reading them all, she says. The network also recommends that teens read beyond headlines and search for keywords in articles they read in another tab to learn more.
“As long as social media is around, I think misinformation, out of context allegations will find their way into people’s timelines,” Volland said. “And in my book, everything is worth checking out.”