Truth and lies online
Occasionally a disruptive innovation takes place and transforms society so dramatically that a gap opens up between what young people are taught and what they need to know. The internet, or more precisely the revolution in information creation and consumption has redrawn the way in which people find, consume, understand, share and produce information in the space of a decade and, as a consequence, has caused an explosion in available information of vastly differing quality. Lies, nonsense, and propaganda live cheek by jowl with high quality journalism and academic research; and often look much the same.
This makes critical thinking – a staple of modern education of course – more important than ever. But Socratic skepticism alone is no longer enough; given the distinct challenges of the online era, it must leavened with new skills fit for the online age, such as search engine algorithms, Wikimedia style editing, or video creation.
As we found in our paper Truth, Lies and the Internet, released last year, the education system does not teach this. Our survey of five hundred teachers revealed that too many students are not able to navigate this difficult landscape. Too few check sources, understand how search engines work, or go to a diverse variety of sites for information. Because of this, they probably trust information they ought to discard: 47 per cent of teachers surveyed reported having encountered arguments within lessons or submitted schoolwork that contains inaccurate internet-based content they regard as deliberately packaged by the producers to be misleading or deceitful (for example, holocaust denial packaged as radical historical revisionism) and 48 per cent report having had arguments in class with pupils about conspiracy theories.
Because of the speed of the change and a busy curriculum, too many schools cannot or do not teach how to make sense of this. Teachers complained that the materials they need to teach this are not available – or would require some quite technical know-how.
While researching this issue we worked with Digital Disruption, a new social enterprise, which has devised materials to tackle some of the issues and problems we found. They have designed a series of lesson plans - most of which are available in the formats young people are used to, such as Facebook or YouTube – that teach pupils how to spot online propaganda, how to approach conspiracy theories, how to source check and what to do before you share information with your friends. It's worth a look.