Students might not be as fluent in social media as we once thought, and the implications are staggering in terms of how they navigate information online. Well before the Fake News stories broke following the 2016 election, Stanford University conducted a study of middle school through college-aged students, and found that not only were they consistently unable to discern real articles from native advertising (ads made to look like articles, usually marked, “sponsored content”), they struggled to understand even some basic conventions of social media.
75% of high school students did not understand that a blue checkmark next to an account name on Facebook or Twitter indicates a verified account.
Teaching social media in the classroom is still a controversial topic, especially for the younger grades. However, the answer might be much simpler. We have known for a long time that students lack valuable critical thinking and information literacy skills; building these skills will undoubtedly help students evaluate sources they encounter online, whether through search engine results, social media feeds, or news sites.
Consider that one of the key findings of the Stanford study was that students valued the graphic design of a source above its authorship or expertise. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the evaluation process and will continue to exist if not addressed, whether students are scrolling through today’s popular social media platforms or whatever takes their place in the years to come.