The ghost of Edward R. Murrow wept in the afterlife today as a Stanford University study revealed that 82 percent of middle-schoolers were unable to tell the difference between a legitimate news story and “sponsored content” from an advertiser. This is a significant finding, especially as America reels from the results of a bitter presidential election that some have theorized might have been swayed by the proliferation of fake news via social media. According to The Wall Street Journal—a reputable, fact-checked news source that has existed since 1889 and is beholden to certain professional standards of accuracy and integrity—Stanford surveyed over 7,800 students from middle school to college in order to determine how teens were interpreting the information they received online. The results were disheartening. More than two-thirds of middle-schoolers neglected to “mistrust a post [about financial planning] written by a bank executive,” while nearly 40 percent of high school students chose to believe in the veracity of a purported news photo, even without a verifiable source attached to it.
The time has come for finger-pointing, and many are aimed squarely at Facebook and Twitter, both of whom swear they’re “taking steps” to prevent the dissemination of fake news in the future. Even that, however, will hardly stem the tide of inaccurate news items, which can be spread through any number of online platforms. Another solution, the Journal suggests, could be educating students so that they’re more “media savvy.” Traditionally, that was the job of the school librarian. But guess what? Many schools have been phasing out their librarians, and teachers have been too busy with teaching basic reading and math to worry about media literacy. It may, then, be up to parents to “instill early a healthy skepticism” in their children. In an age when 88 percent of millennials get their news from social media, possessing a strong “bullshit detector” may be more crucial than ever.