Reality Check: Educator teaches students how to spot fake news

Paul Irvin, a social studies teacher at Nesbitt Discovery Academy, began educating students about fake news. (Photo credit: WLOS)

The term fake news has only been around for about a year, but nowadays you hear it consistently.

A Buncombe County teacher hopes to protect people from consuming and believing false information. Students at Nesbitt Discovery Academy are learning tips in the classroom that we can all use.

"So what's fake news? Can we develop some sort of reasonable definition," Paul Irvin, a social studies teacher at Nesbitt Discovery Academy, asked his class.

You have to name the problem to tame it.

"Sources that intentionally fabricate information, disseminate deceptive content or grossly distort actual news reports," that's how Irvin defines fake news.

Students like Nick Stevenson discovered how easy fake news can be to create. They took part in an exercise to make their own fake news story.

"It's not trying to create a monster. Let me be clear and say that we do it in a very structured and safe way," said Irvin.

He began teaching about fake news last year. The students' exercise in creating their own fake news reveals why Irvin believes it's so important to teach.

"The ease with which it's produced therefore requires that people have to be much more critical in their thinking and thought processes," said Irvin.

The students learned how to spot it and why it's dangerous.

"It kind of leads people to have the wrong facts about an issue. So, it leads to different opinions being formed that should not be formed about a certain topic," Stevenson, a junior, said.

Irvin wants students to look at things and question their validity.

"You'll notice in here, it doesn't say things we simply don't like, right? It's not stuff that we simply don't like," said Irvin.

He's well equipped to teach about fake news, since he used to work in real news.

"I was a managing editor for six of my 10 years at NBC (in Washington D.C.), and then I was a news director for a year-and-a-half. So, I've kind of been there done that," said Irvin.

Fake news also isn't limited to politics. For example, a picture of an NFL player holding a burning American flag went viral, but it was fake.

To protect yourself, you can reverse search an image, check domain names and look at the headline.

"Any time you see something that's in all caps, exclamation points, things that seem to be exaggerated in those titles or headlines, that's a pretty good indication," said Irvin.

Irvin's helping to shape critical thinkers, but there's still so much fake news out there.

"I started out at two days. Two days wasn't enough. Then it was three days. Now, it's like maybe four days or a week," said Irvin.

Irvin said his program is expanding to other schools in the county. The NPR show "On The Media" put together a guide for news consumers to figure out what's real and what's fake.

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