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If state lawmakers have their way, California schoolchildren may be taught how to spot ‘fake news’

This photograph, taken in Paris on Dec. 2, shows stories from USA Daily News 24, a fake news site registered in Veles, Macedonia.© Raphael Satter/AP This photograph, taken in Paris on Dec. 2, shows stories from USA Daily News 24, a fake news site registered in Veles, Macedonia.

It was a divisive presidential election muddied further by false news from false news sources aiming to smear both sides in the campaign.

These stories, one of which claimed an FBI agent looking into Hillary Clinton's e-mail debacle had killed his wife and then killed himself, caught fire on social media — with some readers believing they were true.

That's why two California lawmakers want to raise the next generation with the savvy to tell the difference between media truth and lies.

California Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D) introduced a bill Wednesday that would require the state to establish curriculum standards and frameworks to teach “civic online reasoning” to middle- and high-schoolers. The intention is to help give youngsters “the ability to judge the credibility and quality of information found on Internet Web sites, including social media,” the bill states.

“For every challenge facing this nation, there are numerous Internet sources pretending to be something they are not,” according to the proposed legislation. “With so much information shared on the Internet, it can be difficult to tell the difference between real news and fake news.

“Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed, but information shared on the Internet is disseminated rapidly and often without editorial oversight, making it easier for fake news to reach a large audience.”

It comes at a time when, Gomez said, “we have seen the corrupting effects of a deliberate propaganda campaign driven by fake news.”

“When fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what's real,” he said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. “These attempts to mislead readers pose a direct threat to our democracy.”

Then came a measure introduced by state Sen. Bill Dodd (D), who called the recent tide of spurious stories on social media “deeply concerning.”

“Even more concerning is the lack of education provided to ensure people can distinguish what is fact and what’s not,” he said in a statement. “Through new technology, news has never been more readily available. However, the quality of that information varies widely. By giving students the proper tools to analyze the media they consume, we can empower them to make informed decisions.”

Dodd's bill would require California to incorporate “media literacy” into social science curricula for all grade levels as well as provide such training for teachers.

It states:


During the final, critical months of the 2016 presidential campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax Web sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on social media; where, within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news Internet Web sites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.



It is necessary to confront questions about the moral obligations and ethical standards regarding what appears on social media networks and digital platforms.



Access to technology literacy and digital media skills education for all young students is a challenge, especially for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged communities.



It is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that young adults are prepared with technology literacy and computer skills in order to utilize social media sites responsibly.


As The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan reported this month, “fake news” can be defined as “deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the public” — although, as she noted, the trendy term has already migrated away from its original meaning and, for some, come to describe “Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn’t like to hear.”


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