Stanford’s Graduate School of Education published a study late November on students’ inability to determine the credibility of news stories. The study, which followed more than 7,800 students from 12 states in middle school, high school and college, found that students were easily deceived by sponsored content and fake accounts.
The results of the study showed that most students cannot accurately determine the reliability of news sources, whether in identifying bias or sponsored content.
When Stanford students took part in the study, researchers found that most students could not distinguish between mainstream and fringe news sources. They could not tell social media posts from the American Academy of Pediatrics apart from those from the American College of Pediatricians, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak,” read the study’s executive summary.
During the study, college students also evaluated the reliability of a tweet from MoveOn.org about the National Rifle Assocation. Less than a third of students acknowledged that MoveOn.org’s political agenda might impact the objectivity of the tweet.
High school students were shown a picture of deformed daisies on Imgur with the title “Fukushima Nuclear Flowers” and the caption, “Not much more to say, this is what happens when flowers get nuclear birth defects.” Nearly 40 percent of students said the post was convincing because it was photographic evidence.
Middle school students were asked to distinguish between advertisements and articles on Slate magazine’s homepage, and 80 percent of them identified a native advertisement with the words “sponsored content” on it as a real news story.
In addition, both high school and college students were asked about the reliability of MinimumWage.com, the website of a D.C. lobbying organization. Students were allowed to use Google to research its reliability, yet most students never left the site. Only 9 percent of high school students realized the site was a lobbying group, while only 7 percent of college students realized the same.
“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite,” the study’s executive summary writes.
The results of the study come at a time when social media sites such Facebook and Twitter are accused of distributing fake news.
Contact Stephanie Brito at sbrito ‘at’ stanford.edu.