Millennials account for more than 80 million people within the United States. Born between 1980 and 1999, they are one of the most diverse and distinctive generations; growing up in a world where a magnitude of their culture is displayed amongst lighted screens. More connected than ever, the daily intake of news exists across a plethora of devices and social outlets at the mercy of what graces their feeds.
In a detailed analysis of news consumption traffic conducted by web analytics, it uncovered that Facebook users are two and a half times more likely to read fake news fed through social networks in lieu of searching via major news sources home site. In comparison to sites like the NY Times and CNN to 20 of the deceptive news sites, studies found that Facebook referrals accounted for 50% of user traffic to the fake sites, compared to meek 20% of traffic to the dependable sites.
These alarming statistics led Stanford to conduct study assessing student’s capabilities to decipher between credible and phony information sources or articles. Middle school, high school and college students across 12 states were asked to evaluate information presented through a variety of online social platforms. Researchers labeled the ability of students to effectively evaluate the credibility and “realness” of sources as “shocking, “dismaying” and a “threat to democracy”.
When presented with a traditional ad versus a paid, faux story branded as “sponsored content”, more than 80 percent of middle and high school students believed that the promoted content on social media translated to a legitimate news story. They were able to interpret that it was sponsored leading researchers to conclude that they may be unaware of what that term really denotes.
Students were also more likely to believe these sponsored news sources from Facebook are reliable based on the visual appearance of the site. In comparison of the real Fox News account with a blue verification checkmark to a bogus site with a professional and polished layout that may look like Fox News, students were still trumped. A quarter of students recognized the significance of the checkmark but over thirty percent held the argument that the fake account was actually more trustworthy leading to the conclusion that young people tend to credulously accept information as presented even without supporting evidence or citations.
When presented with a tweet by MoveOn regarding gun owners’ feelings on background checks, citing a survey by Public Policy Polling, undergraduate students were still unable to confirm its legitimacy. Only a few students noted that the tweet was conducted by a professional firm possibly making it a reputable source, while more than half neglected to click on the link within the tweet to evaluate the data. At the same time, the political agenda of the organization justified a third of student’s skepticism regarding the factuality of its data.
This study demonstrates that classrooms have not caught up to the way information is spread and how it is influencing younger members of society. They tap into their phones, spread and forward click bait or fake news articles without thinking twice about its credibility. Experts stress the importance of schools resisting utilization of a filtering system that automatically weeds out any invalid sources but instead use the freedom of the web as an opportunity to educate students on how to become independent fact checkers, to look for other sources to confirm legitimacy and not just assume that Google and Social Media rank search results by reliability. Millennials desire to remain aware of events happening around them as a new generation of readers makes it imperative that they understand how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking in a realm that just wants their attention.