Fake News!? Deciphering and Analyzing Information in a Digital World

In a digitally interconnected world, we are constantly forced to “read,” interpret, and make sense of an influx of information and media– we are always connected. In this state of existence we must learn to interpret and analyze information quickly and efficiently in order to protect ourselves from falling into the never ending void of falsehood, fake news, and misinformation. 

Growing up in the 90s, fake news and misinformation was often easily identifiable– this was the “news” being reported on the front pages of The National Enquirer or Weekly World News found on the news stands at our local grocery stores. With headlines like: “ Bat Child Found in Cave!” or “12 U.S Senators Are Space Aliens,” it was easy to spot the fake news amongst legitimate reporting.

Photo Credit: WNYC Studios (2007).

Unfortunately, with the advent of AI technologies, deep fakes, a massive influx of available information and news, and the constant evolution of stories being played out as they happen on all media platforms, the fake is getting harder to spot without a constant critical engagement with media resources– we need an evolving curriculum for media literacy. 

In my heart I will always be first and foremost a student of history and the languages. It is within this role that I have developed the critical literacy skills that I use to decipher, analyze and validate all the information that comes across my (many) screens. The critical literacy skills that I once used to analyze and critique novels for theme, messaging, meaning, and bias are now those that I constantly rely on when engaging with all types of digital media– from an apparently innocuous Facebook post to the latest news broadcast posted by a reputable news source. In day to day applications, I have learned to understand the nuances of certain messages, particularly looking at language for clues, this along with a growing understanding of the ways that digital media is procured and curated based on personal preferences, and the ability to fact check and verify information by searching other sources has generally allowed me to engage in the constant process of verifying and validating resources. 

In the article, “Schoolkids are Falling Victim to Disinformation and Conspiracy Fantasies,” Melinda Wenner Moyer (2022) argues for media literacy education with a specific focus on educating students to read laterally. According to Heick (2023), “lateral reading (as opposed to vertical reading) is the act of verifying what you’re reading as you’re reading it.” Lateral reading forces the reader to conduct simultaneous research to determine the credibility, intent, and biases within a given article or bit of information. While Moyer’s (2022) research suggests that lateral reading is indeed an effective way to analyze and engage with a range of media sources, this process can and sometimes does feel rather daunting when faced with the prospect of wading through more information and media. My willingness to engage in lateral reading strategies is entirely dependent on the reasons behind why I am engaging with certain media and informational sources. For example, when writing an academic paper for a university course I rely on peer reviewed resources and will fully engage in lateral reading, however, if I am simply accessing news sources in order to keep up to date with what is happening around the world I will tend not to engage in as deep of a reading and instead utilize news sources that I feel are more reliable and valid, for example CBC. I am, however, always conscious of the ways that information is shared, portrayed, and that nothing is ever without some level of bias nor above critique.

CBC Kids News has a great video that would be appropriate for a range of grade levels, while also suggesting tips on how to read laterally to check sources.

3 thoughts on “Fake News!? Deciphering and Analyzing Information in a Digital World

  1. Ah, how much I miss seeing the outrageous headlines of the National Enquirer (my mom was a frequent buyer). You always KNEW everything was fake…and that’s what made it fun. But now? Things have gotten very confusing (you’re so right!). Over the last few years, I think I have become obsessed with fact-checking, much to the annoyance of friends and family. Anything that is said or retold is almost instantly laterally researched online. Reflecting on this habit, I realize how often it takes me out of the moment, and how I frequently deflect from my own gut instincts about information. The alternative (not critically viewing anything) is no better. This class has made me realize that I must find a healthy middle ground to stay balanced in all the misinformation of the world. Thanks for the great insights!

  2. I still remember at my first job putting out the Weekly World News magazine each week and seeing the goings on of Batboy and other characters. You are very right about how much seemingly simpler of a time that was in being able to tell very quickly what was fake news and what was legitimate. As technology has become more sophisticated, it has become increasingly difficult to decipher what is real from what is not.
    I really did appreciate how you talked about how those analysis skills we teach in the humanities are key to being able to interpret the information we receive. It is those skills that allow us to more easily understand what the intention was behind a piece of information, whether it be to inform us or to harm us. While it may not be possible to go through a deep analysis of each news article we come across, it is still good practice to come into the practice of questioning everything that we consume so that we become a more engaged and critical audience of media. Great insights!

  3. Great post, Kelsey! As an English teacher I find it really hard to strike a balance between teaching the skills you mention that you’ve extrapolated into analyzing media and in trying to use social media as an alternate form of analysis skill building. I think the wading through information, which sometimes feels like trudging through mud, is why kids often become complacent or react with charged emotion like Kim’s video mentions. I think what you mention about WHY you are engaging with certain media messages is really important and what needs to be perhaps what I focus on if I include social media in message analysis in my classes. Thanks for sharing – I learned a lot from this post and it really got me thinking 🙂

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