WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nation’s largest teachers union – which almost exclusively supports Democrats – is prompting its members as the solution to countering the alleged proliferation of “fake news” on social media.
“There’s nothing new about teenagers (or adults for that matter) finding unreliable or just plain false information on the Internet, but fake news – bogus or exaggerated information disguised as reliable ‘journalism’ and funneled primarily through Facebook – went viral in a big way in 2016,” according to NEAToday, blog for the National Education Association.
“Taking on ‘fake news’ still comes down to media and digital literacy, which is taught in many schools but certainly not at the level needed to help neutralize the effects of false information that went viral.”
The focus on “fake news” stems from a Nov. 24 story in The Washington Post that cited an anonymous group called “PropOrNot” that alleged Russian propaganda undermined the 2016 election and tilted it in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.
The Post simply regurgitated PropOrNot’s findings and cited its report, which listed over 200 websites that were purportedly used as puppets by the Russian propagandists, including wildly popular sites like the Drudge Report that are well known for breaking very important real news.
“Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human ‘trolls,’ and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia,” according to the Post.
“Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on ‘fake news,’ as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.”
The Post was later forced to print a lengthy editor’s note acknowledging that the media site “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet” and that “PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list” since the Post story was first published.
Other analysis by sites like BuzzFeed exposed hyperpartisan and allegedly “fake news” from both the left and the right of the political spectrum.
The NEAToday blog pointed to teachers in Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire and other areas who are working to counter the impact of alleged “fake news” on public school students, and argues teachers are in a better position to effect change than social media titans like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who are conspiring to censor content online.
The union blog cited Bill Ferriter, a North Carolina teacher who recently wrote about “new literacy” for his blog.
“We don’t need new policies and tools from tech companies to identify sketchy content on the web. Instead we need to develop citizens who take careful steps to verify that the information they are reading anywhere on the web is reliable,” Ferriter wrote. “That’s the new literacy in today’s complicated media ecology – and it is the new literacy that we give too little attention to in schools.”
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made a similar argument in a recent livestream on Twitter, though he contends consumers should take it upon themselves to vet information online and sift out the junk, rather than relying on gatekeepers like Facebook or Google.
“The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other,” he said, according to Breitbart. “The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular.”
The NEA seems to believe that it’s incumbent upon teachers to shape how students consume news, a role many educators have abused over the years to push the union’s far-left perspective on everything from religion to abortion to climate change.
Parents across the country have repeatedly raised issues with the glorification of Islam in public school text books, educators evangelizing their liberal political perspective, and school assignments that are clearly biased against conservatives and Christians.
On the surface, it makes sense for students to look to teachers to learn critical thinking skills, but the union’s own history of distorting the facts to fit its political agenda, and countless examples of members doing the same, raises legitimate questions about the true motivation behind the NEA’s recent efforts to address the alleged epidemic of “fake news.”
“A student’s ability to be more critical of the information they get online, to understand evidence, to identify inaccurate sources, affects practically every subject – English, Social Studies, Science, Health,” Cedar Springs, Michigan teacher Dave Stuart told NEAToday.
“This is a huge opportunity for all of us.”