CHICAGO -- Fake news is on people's radar like never before, due to speculation about what role it may have played in the past election. And not a moment too soon; the lack of media literacy in this country is becoming an epidemic -- one that, like so many other public health threats, is particularly harmful to children.
Recently, researchers at Stanford University's History Education Group began to measure what they call "civic online reasoning," which they define as the ability to judge the credibility of information viewed while on electronic devices.
The Group administered 56 tasks designed to evaluate understanding of the reliability of news sources to middle school, high school and college students -- in both well-resourced and under-resourced schools -- across 12 states.
What the researchers found comes as no surprise to anyone who spends time with young adults who have had digital devices in their hands since toddlerhood:
"Overall, young people's ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak," reads the study's executive summary. "We would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners' political action committee. And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who's behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students' lack of preparation."