Wednesday 18 September 2019

Students learning to filter out fake news

Students are discovering how social media and journalism can benefit each other, writes Katherine Donnelly

Stock picture
Stock picture
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

In an age when pop idols, sports stars and even world leaders share their thoughts and latest news on social media, it is not surprising that growing numbers hardly look beyond their phones to keep up to date with what's going on in the world.

Platforms such as Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook have revolutionised communications, putting users a screen-swipe away from a constant flow of news, opinions, pictures and videos.

Social media represents a challenge to traditional media organisations, such as newspapers and broadcasters, by providing an alternative stream of information and entertainment.

But it also offers a powerful tool to journalists, delivering content that otherwise might not make its way out into the world. Anyone with a smart-phone, or other portable device, can instantly spread the word, or an image, about an event.

It has brought 'citizen' journalism to a new level, with, for instance, eyewitness accounts of tumultuous social upheavals to which traditional journalism may not have immediate access.

During Storm Ophelia, there was widespread use of social media for both public information updates and the sharing of news about what was happening in different areas.

In traditional media organisations, news-gathering relies on trusted sources, requires that information is authenticated and seeks to ensure that what it presents is fair and balanced. The job of the journalist is not merely to relay information, but to bring a critical eye and to ask necessary questions.

Newspapers and broadcasters can be prosecuted for publishing content that is untrue or deemed to be unfair.

The same rules don't apply in social media. While its benefits are huge, at its worst, it can come down to abusive and bullying content and 'fake news' that can quickly gain currency. Technology provides tools to counter and/or verify content but there is a learning curve involved.

Social media is no replacement for traditional journalism, but it is a powerful tool that can enhance it.

This is the sixth year of a Transition Year initiative known as Press Pass, a student journalism and news literacy programme, run by NewsBrands Ireland, the representative organisation for national newspapers, print and online.

To date it has involved about 70,000 students, and produced some very fine journalism along the way.

Press Pass aims to improve literacy and critical thinking skills while helping students to develop a deeper understanding of news media. Students are exposed to the language types of information, argument, narration and persuasion that they will encounter in the Leaving Certificate English syllabus.

Through PressPass, they engage with the newspapers in the classroom, analyse them and create their own original journalism, the best of which is entered into a national competition

This year, Twitter has come on board as a partner.

Much of the focus of PressPass in previous years has been on the student journalism, but the link-up with Twitter will bring a greater emphasis to the news literacy side.

Twitter has helped to develop a new curriculum for the programme. Participants will use Twitter to research and verify stories. There will also be some events in Twitter.Twitter managing director Sinéad McSweeney sees it as an "entirely logical partnership" as the platform has been a tool for journalists since its inception.

She says: "We want to teach people to consume information in the right way,. We believe that helping young people to learn how to identify credible sources of information is vital.

"At a time when young people are surrounded by information, they don't need to learn off answers; it is far more important that we help them to develop skills for critical thinking, whether for Twitter usage or general information consumption.

"We want to help students to consume information in the right way not to take information at face value, and if they see a Tweet, to ask themselves: 'What steps do I have to take before it becomes news? Is it true? What is the source? Can I corroborate it?'.

NewsBrands chairman Vincent Crowley is similarly enthusiastic about the partnership.

"Twitter's job, like NewsBrands', is to keep people informed about what is happening in the world. It enables new and existing readers to find quality journalism," he says.

"The platform is an integral part of the journalist toolkit - assisting in news gathering and sourcing eyewitnesses - as well as promoting content to further engage readers."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News