Butler University’s division of student affairs shared a mnemonic device to use before doing anything on social media on their website. It resonated with me-T=Is it true? H=Is it helpful? I=Is it inspiring? N=Is it necessary? and K=Is it kind? Several times I have noticed my friends and family repost social media news I doubt is true, I might find offensive, or I may not appreciate. Butler recommends we should, “Be critical about what you post, like, and forward. Utilize your research skills to check fact from fiction.” I wish there was a way to get this message out there to my friends and family! Oh wait, I can start by reposting it on my Facebook account:
Butler went on to suggest we should be active bystanders. Active bystander?! This is taking action which is a little less comfortable for me than just sharing an article on Facebook. In the past, I have directed people to Snopes.com when I find something that’s been reposted which is not factual. That part is ok, I’m comfortable with it. However, does this mean I am supposed to tell someone when they are posting information I find unhelpful, uninspiring, not necessary, or unkind? Is my opinion more important or more correct than theirs? Is posting information I find mean just their freedom of speech? I can imagine having this conversation with a student but with an adult-seems sticky. Butler has given me something to ponder and next time I see a post, I will have to THINK carefully about how I will respond and how I can be an effective active bystander.
How can I teach my students to critically question what they’re reading online, to question if it is true? My students are at an age when they are learning to read, they are beginning to distinguish between fact and opinion; also, they are learning the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Gaining these understandings is paramount for students to be able to critically question if what they are reading online is true. Seven-year-olds may not yet be ready to fact-check news articles or find original sources for posts online; however, they can begin to hear about the concept of people posting false information online. When we start teaching students about researching online, teachers can give students a consistent message they should consider the possibility someone might have posted misleading information online just to lead them astray, just to mess with them. At this age, teachers can begin to plant the seed of doubt in students’ minds which will lead them to begin questioning the validity of online information. This is the first step for students becoming critical THINKers.