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BizReport : Trends & Ideas archives : November 23, 2016

Ability of young people to reason about online information "bleak"

The ability of young people to evaluate information on social media is poor, according to new research from Stanford University.

by Helen Leggatt

One word sums up the ability of young people to reason about the information they find on social media and, for Stanford University researchers, that word is "bleak".

Connected and tech-savvy they may well be, but Stanford's study of students found that 80% were unable to differentiate between an advertisement (labeled as sponsored content) from a news story. Some students even noticed it was "sponsored content" yet still believed the content to be a news article. This suggests, says the study, that they do not know what the phrase means.

"Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there," said Sam Wineburg, the report's lead author. "Our work shows the opposite to be true."

While once upon a time people relied upon editors, publishers and experts on various matters to vet the information consumed, today an unregulated Internet has become, in the words of philosopher Michael Lynch, "both the world's best fact-checker and the world's best bias confirmer".

With so many groups using the Internet to further their own cause, it is imperative that young people today are taught critical thinking skills to enable them to sift through the fake or misleading information that is an unfortunate side effect of an unregulated online environment.

Tags: critical thinking, media, research, social media

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