Recently, PCMag’s Evan Dashevsky argued that “If you fall for nonsense articles in your Facebook feed, don’t blame Facebook. It’s your fault for not checking sources.” He might want to notify the nation’s students, who are apparently easily duped by slick content dressed up as news, a new Stanford report finds.
“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” Professor Sam Wineburg, lead author of the report and founder of the Stanford History Education Group, said in a statement. “Our work shows the opposite to be true.”
Between January 2015 and June 2016—before the issue of fake news started making headlines—Wineburg and his team collected data from 7,804 students in middle and high school, as well as college, who were asked to evaluate tweets, media site home pages, blog posts, and more to determine if they were legit.
It seems that while your 12-year-old niece is capable of firing off dozens of Snaps a minute, she and her digital native brethren are “easily duped” when it comes to sponsored content and have difficulty sniffing out potential conflicts of interest, the Stanford report says.
Middle school students, for example, were asked to look at the homepage of Slate.com and identify content as news or ads. “The students were able to identify a traditional ad—one with a coupon code—from a news story pretty easily. But of the 203 students surveyed, more than 80 percent believed a native ad, identified with the words ‘sponsored content,’ was a real news story,” the report finds.
High school students, meanwhile, were asked to look at social media posts from the actual Fox News and a fake Fox News account. Only a quarter recognized that a blue checkmark signified they were looking at the real Fox News. “And over 30 percent of students argued that the fake account was more trustworthy because of some key graphic elements that it included,” the report says.
High school students (in AP history, no less) were also asked to look at MinimumWage.com, which calls itself a project of the Employment Policies Institute. Only 9 percent did a little digging to discover that the site was the work of a DC lobbying firm and not an objective source of information about the topic.
College students didn’t fare much better; 93 percent fell for the MinimumWage.com test.