It is not hard to notice how much our OJCS students have been talking to one another about what’s happening in Ukraine. When they enter the classroom in the mornings, when they play outside at recess, and as they walk in the halls, they are talking about the things they’ve heard, the TikTok videos they’ve seen, and the news they’ve managed to see on tv or hear in the car with their parents. It is really important that we don’t ignore this show of concern in our students, but instead, try to offer opportunities to discuss the invasion sensitively with them so that they have an opportunity to voice their anxieties and other feelings, and to help them gain context and understanding. It is also a great way we can bring news literacy into the classroom by discussing the ways in which social media can lead to misinformation about what is going on.
Here are some resources you can use to help you navigate these discussions;
How to Talk to Kids About What is Happening In Ukraine Right Now – CBC
With TikTok becoming the social media platform of choice for so many students, it is important that they learn to recognize the misinformation, hate, and propaganda on the platform. It is also critical that they become aware of some of the TikTok controversies, like the privacy issues with the platform, as well as some of their unethical censorship rules. This lesson is availabe as both a slides and Nearpod lesson.
You have probably heard people talk about something you find on social media called bots. You may even have had an experience with bots liking, retweeting, or commenting on your social media posts. But what exactly are bots? Are they dangerous?
There was an event on TikTok a few months ago where many users suddenly had hundreds of likes and comments on every single video of theirs from other users with weird names who had no content of their own and who had Asian profile pictures. Kids got very scared and there were TikTok videos circulating that the people liking and commenting were kidnappers. It caused some pretty widespread hysteria. But what these were were not real people, they were automated computer programs called bots that been designed to like and comment on anybody who had posted videos that followed certain criteria. And they were not dangerous or threatening to TikTok users.
So the bots you find online are automated computer programs and the ones we find on social media are known as SOCIAL BOTS or CHAT BOTS. These simple automated computer programs look for certain keywords in posts and decide what to comment and/or if to like the post. To help explain what these automated computer programs do, let’s watch this excellent video on the topic.
So now that you know a lot more about bots, what clues could have helped TikTok users identify their new fans as bots instead of real users? Post your answers in the comments section of this post!
It is important to note that there are real dangers with bots, and that is their ability to sway public opinion in a certain direction. This can impact decisions made by governments, made by voters, and made by the general public like you. For example, seeing that certain TikTok users have more likes than others may persuade you to follow that person, even if all those likes came from bots.
The Atlantic Magazine writes that – ‘About a fifth of all tweets about the 2016 presidential election were published by bots, according to one estimate, as were about a third of all tweets about that year’s Brexit vote. An Oxford Internet Institute report from last year found evidence of bots being used to spread propaganda in 50 countries.’(Schneier, Bruce. Bots Are Destroying Political Discourse As We Know It, The Atlantic. Jan 2020).
What this means is that bots are posting about politics and this has the power to influence other people’s opinions about issues that are really important, like who should be the next Prime Minister or whether people should legally have to wear masks in public. And when the government is looking to social media to find out public opinion on a certain issue, they may instead be finding the opinions of bots that alter the truth of the majority. Bots are also used to spread a lot misinformation, hate, and racist ideas.
So use your new bot-identifying skills and don’t fall for the opinions of bots! But if they give you a like, a retweet, or a comment, don’t get too worried about it either.
I wanted to take a moment to highlight an incredible program for our students that is available online. I have been both impressed and amazed by the work that The News Literacy Project is doing to help build critical thinking skills in students. The News Literacy Project is a non-profit and nonpartisan organization that is working to educate the public about how to separate fact from fiction in the news and how to assess news credibility. They have developed an incredibly comprehensive online program called Checkology for middle school and high school aged students that can be tailored for each classroom.
Checkology consists of about a half a dozen units per grade that cover the essentials of news and media literacy. These units are often presented by actual news anchors and heads of news or media organizations. Each unit includes lots of activities for students to test their newfound knowledge through the sorting of video, media, and other content into appropriate categories of information. It also helps them to understand what makes some content credible and other content not. And they do all of this while being simultaneously entertaining and engaging! The clips that they use as examples are timely and relevant and students will feel right at home with the content.
Checkology will become an integral piece of my library programming here at the OJCS. Media literacy is a key foundation of digital citizenship, and this incredible program can help our students get there.
Afterwards we will complete a short assignment to make sure we understand the difference. Understanding the difference between facts and opinions is another way we can be great digital citizens. There is so much information online presented as a fact when it is actually just an opinion. And in this book we learn how important it is to listen respectfully to the opinions of others even if we don’t agree with them. This is especially true online when we make comments on each other’s blogs and social media.
Learning to identify misinformation, disinformation, deepfakes and other baloney
I recently created this lesson on information credibility for our OJCS middle schoolers in the interactive format of Nearpod. I am posting the slides version here for students and teachers far and wide to use. Our young people need this now more than ever!
Misinformation is ‘false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.’
Where do we hear this misinformation? Unfortunately, the online world is absolutely full of it. From youtube videos, to tiktok, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, people are bombarded with fake facts and fake news. Here is an example of misinformation that I found on youtube.
If you saw this video online you’d be terrified. You might tell your friends about it and spread this information further. So how do we verify if it is true or not?
Now it’s your turn to give this a try. I need you to be a fact-checker and find out if this information is true or not using the techniques we just learned.
Check the source – run a Google Search on the publisher or author of the information and try to find out more
The Rule of Three – check three other sources of information