Wednesday, November 23, 2016

On Digital Media, Fluency, and Fact-Checking

Blogger changed their format for viewing the blogs I follow as well as accessing my own blog.

It used to be that my blog was listed at the top, with a few buttons underneath it, to add a new post, access previous posts, and view the blog itself. Underneath that was my blog list, an RSS feed of recent posts from the blog I follow.

Now, the default screen is the "posts" view with a button to write a new post, and a button to access my reading list. I usually log on to Blogger a few times a day to look at my RSS feed, and will frequently do so even if I'm not planning to write a post. So the new format is great for people who only use Blogger for blogging, but not so great for people like me who use it to track favorite blogs.

My initial response is that I don't like it, but I know that's because it's different and therefore, it's taking me a little bit longer to access things I used to be able to access with little thought. I've blogged before about what happens when "thinking feels hard" - in cognitive psychology, we refer to the ease or difficulty of thinking as "processing fluency" and we refer to the conclusions we draw from monitoring our thinking as "metacognition." So I'm completely aware that's the reason for my initial, knee-jerk reaction. I prefer to put the thinking into my posts themselves, as opposed to getting to a blank post template.

Fluency can explain a lot of reactions to information. Information that is easy to read, makes us feel good, or aligns with our preconceived notions is more likely to be believed. This could be why various sites, such as Facebook, are trying to limit posts from fake news sources. And a recent study out of Stanford University offers some support for these steps:
Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college. The study, set for release Tuesday, is the biggest so far on how teens evaluate information they find online. Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source.

More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help. And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.
Obviously, a better step would be to teach critical thinking skills, so that kids can determine for themselves what information should be trusted. But, as the article points out, fewer schools have librarians who would teach students research skills, and increases in standardized curriculum and assessment to ensure students are performing at grade level means there is no longer extra class time that could be spent on media literacy and critical thinking skills. This places the burden of that instruction on parents, who may not be any better at recognizing fake v. legitimate news.

This is the reason for post-its on our parents' computers that simply say, "Check Snopes first."

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