Despite claims that the young generation tends to be the more technically savvy, a study revealed that they are easily duped by social media messages and other fake contents in the internet.
In a study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Education researchers, it was found that students displayed a remarkable inability to determine what is true from the information published online.
"Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there," Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the report and founder of Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), said. "Our work shows the opposite to be true."
Credible vs. Unreliable Online Sources
The study involved 7,804 students, from middle-schoolers to college students. It was conducted primarily to determine teaching approaches that will enable students to distinguish credible sources from unreliable ones.
For this purpose, the researchers investigated how students evaluated online information such as blog posts, Twitter and Facebook feeds, forums and digital messages, among other content that help shape public opinion.
They were dismayed to find that students lacked preparation and knowledge to assess the credibility of online content and the trustworthiness of the information's sources.
Online Trustworthiness Benchmarks
Students are also unable to identify benchmarks and symbols used online to indicate reliability of sources. For example, social media platforms often feature mechanisms that indicate whether an account is verified. At Facebook, this involves a blue checkmark.
The researchers discovered that the bulk of the high school students did not recognize the mark and proceeded on treating unverified content on equal footing with those labeled as trusted sources.
While college students demonstrated more discerning internet assessment skills, they still get duped as their evaluation skills are merely informed by high production values, a polished About Us page and nothing else.
Threat To Democracy
The researchers fear that if the trend persists, it could undermine American democracy by the way disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread.
Moving forward, the researchers plan to share their findings with educators in order to determine ways to address the problem. They are specifically concerned with the link between digital literacy and informed citizenship.
The study has so far reinforced the fake news problem that permeates in social media. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, recently unveiled a plan to address fake news in its network. He recently drew flak for declaring that the claim about Facebook's misleading content influenced the outcome of the U.S. 2016 elections is crazy.