Tackling the topic of fake news in ICT lessons

Geetha Sundar, Head of Computer Science/ICT at St Michael’s Catholic School in High Wycombe , explains how she’s tackling fake news in her classroom…

Social, moral, spiritual and cultural (SMSC) issues are covered in ICT and computer science lessons a lot. With the developments in technology and the changing curriculum, some topics like the Computer Misuse Act, copyright and the Designs and Patents Act are covered not only as separate lessons in themselves, but come up as part of other lessons. In addition, students are taught about e-safety, issues of impersonation, cyber-bullying, and sexting.

In one of my lessons I covered ICT and fake news, because as a part of SMSC I think students should be taught to separate fact from fiction. I explained how people get carried away by fake news and the impact it could have on society. ICT and fake news was also one of the topics we delivered for Year 10 students during a PSHCE lessons. The main objectives were to:

- reflect on what we do and do not believe in the news

- to think critically about news

When students read examples of some fake news, they were surprised, shocked and could not believe them.

To support whole school literacy development, I divided students into groups of three or four and each group wrote their own fake story. As oracy is given a lot of importance at St Michael’s, a few students were encouraged to read their own fake story to the whole class. They discussed and analysed how convincing it was, how they might tell if it was fake and if it really matters anyway. They also suggested how the story could be improved further to make people believe that it is not fake news but real. This activity helped them to some extent to differentiate between fact and fiction.

I also explained how some fake links that we get on social media, and how some spam messages, are spread to collect data. For example, I gave them my personal experience when I received a message on WhatsApp asking me to send it to a minimum of 10 people so that I could get some free vouchers from that company. When I sent the message to 10 people, they were collecting data from those 10 people and in turn if they sent it further, they collected more and more data. We had a group discussion later on how personal data collected may sometimes be misused.

Children of this generation see the outside world through ‘windows’ but do not realise the dangers out there. There is less interaction now with parents, peers, and siblings compared to the time before the robust use of social media. As a result, children of this generation do not know how to cope if they are faced with challenges in the digital world.

Students may not be aware of the recent changes to the law for example on revenge porn, ‘upskirting’, posting racial comments on social media and the consequences of breaking these laws. Explaining these during lessons make not only for interesting debate, but also teach them how to stay safe and deal with these challenging situations if they are ever faced with any of them.

As digitalisation gathers pace, automation, robotics, and artificial Intelligence may make differentiating fact from fiction even more difficult. However, I think that some of these fast emerging technological advances can be leveraged to automatically verify fact against fiction using machine learning, to help us cope with these challenges in the future.