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Exploring the Fake News Cycle

December 12, 2016

Baba Ayinde Olumiji


Intended Audience: Middle School Students

Objective: Students will analyze data, news reports, and respond to text dependent questions and active reading tasks in order to understand the spread of “Fake News” and the impact it has on our society and on how we receive political information.

Common Core Standards



Lesson Plan

Opening Activity: The chart below shows the number of Facebook Engagements for the Top 20 Election stories. Use the information from the chart below to answer the following questions. (10 points)


1) What is the difference in Facebook engagements between mainstream news and fake news between February and April?

2) What is the difference in Facebook engagements between mainstream and fake news in the period between May and July?

3) What is the difference in Facebook engagements between mainstream and fake news in the period between August and Election Day?

4) Explain the difference in the number of Facebook engagements between mainstream and fake news between February and Election Day?

5) Predict: Why do you think there was such a rise in Facebook engagements, as the calendar moved closer to Election Day?

Shared Reading: The Issue with Fake News: Read the article below and use the information from the text to answer the following questions and complete the following active reading tasks. (40 points)

P1 – (1) Reading a headline does not mean that you know all the information about a story. (2) Sometimes, headlines and stories are not true. (3) It is an old lesson Americans famously learned in Nov. 3, 1948, when the Chicago Daily Tribune headline proclaimed, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” before the presidential race was called and the final result was tallied. The next day, they had to recant to announce that President Harry Truman had defeated then-New York Gov. Thomas Dewey. (4) This moment is worth revisiting as millions of people rely on their social media feeds that have recently become inundated with made-up headlines. (5) These hoaxes are not just bouncing around among like-minded conspiracy theorists; candidates and elected officials are sharing them, too. (6) Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, on Thursday tweeted about people who have been paid to riot against Donald Trump, an idea that had been spread by fake news stories. (7) A man who wrote a number of false news reports told the Washington Post that Trump supporters and campaign officials often shared his false anti-(Hillary) Clinton posts without bothering to confirm the facts and that he believes his work may have helped to elect the Republican nominee (Facebook and the Digital Virus Called Fake News). (8) Abroad, the dissemination (spread) of fake news on Facebook, which reaches 1.8 billion people globally, has been a longstanding problem.(9) In countries like Myanmar, deceptive Internet content has reportedly contributed to ethnic violence.  (10) And it has influence elections in Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere (Fake news in U.S. Election? Elsewhere, That’s Nothing New). (11) Social media sites have also been used to spread misinformation about the referendum on the peace deal in Colombia and about Ebola in West Africa.

1) Why does the author begin the selection with the story of the 1948 election? How does this example connect to our current history?

2) What line in the text supports this statement, “These hoaxes are not just bouncing around among like-minded conspiracy theorists; candidates and elected officials are sharing them, too”

3) Why does Paul Horner (the man who wrote the fake news reports) believe that he helped get Donald Trump elected?

4) Active Reading Task: Highlight at least 2 pieces of evidence that describes the impact of misinformation of Facebook on Global Politics.

P2 – (1) Margot Susca, a professor of journalism and communication at American University, said it can become difficult for Facebook and Twitter users to decipher the legitimacy of a news story because oftentimes fake articles are published on websites that sound trustworthy in name and provide professional looking layout and graphics but are not trustworthy.(2) “Let’s remember that millions of posts are flying around,” Susca said. “But more fake news stories generated hits than genuine news stories in the last critical months of the election.” (3) Moreover, Susca said many news consumers only bother to read a headline, never reading the story (even the ones that have a disclaimer at the bottom indicating that the story is satirical).

5) According to Dr. Susca, explain at least 2 challenges people online face when attempting to determine the accuracy of new stories ? In addition, how do people themselves contribute to the spread of fake news?

6) Active Reading Task: Highlight the evidence in the selection below that supports this statement “Social media had an impact on people’s political perspectives during the 2016 election cycle”

P3 – (1) Susca said there is anecdotal evidence suggesting social media had some effect on news consumers during the most recent presidential election. (2) She pointed out a recent Pew Research Center study that found “20 percent of social media users say they’ve modified their stance on a social or political issue because of material they saw on social media, and 17 percent say social media has helped to change their views about a specific political candidate.” (3) Facebook’s role in the dissemination of political news is undeniable. (4) In May 2016, 44 percent of Americans said they got news from the social media site.

How to Prevent the Spread of Fake News

P4 – (1) The best tool at your disposal, of course, is common sense. (2) No matter what your political beliefs, if a story serves only to reinforce your beliefs, it is best to be extra skeptical before sharing it. (3) If a report is purportedly based on other news stories, find the original source of the information. (4) You might find some of the quotes are correct, but the rest may have been taken out of context or fabricated. (5) If the story you are reading does not link to an original source, that could be an indication that it is a fake news story. (6) Use a search engine to look for the keywords in the story to see if the “news” is being reported by any other outlets. (7) Some stories, intentionally or not, read like satire. (8) If it sounds like it could be a headline on the Onion, it’s best to double-check the story. (9) And check the URL. (10) If it has a strange ending, think twice about the story. (11) For example, an article claiming President Barack Obama banned the national anthem at US sporting events was false. It came from a website with the suffix, “,” which makes no sense.

7) Explain the importance of the original source in determining if a story is real or fake.

8) How can additional research help prevent the spread of fake news stories?

9) Active Reading Task: Highlight additional steps that consumers can take to prevent the spread of fake news.

P5-Facebook’s Solution to Fake News  (1) Facebook has long argued that it is not a media company, but that it is a technology platform that simply carries information. (2) The truth of the matter is that Facebook and its algorithms determine what news articles hundreds of millions of people see around the world each day. (3) This brings with it some ethical responsibilities as well. (4) Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a number of other updates that are apparently in the works. (5) A few of the potential changes: he proposed adding a warning label to stories that users have flagged as inaccurate.(6) He pledged that Facebook would be working with more third-party fact checking organizations.(7) He also said that it would improve the accuracy of the “related articles” that they suggest for users to read. (8)The company will also block fake news distributors from paying to promote their content. (9) Zuckerberg also added that they would be build algorithms to automatically detect fake news.

10) Active Reading Task: Highlight all of Facebook’s proposals to address the spread of Fake News. Which proposals do you think are the strongest in addressing the issue and why?

11) Closing Activity: Working with your table, go online and find five fact Facebook headlines and describe whether it seems true or false and explain your position. Have students share out their conclusions with the class (16 points)

12) Wrap-Up: Students should complete their Exit Ticket and leave it on their desk as they leave the classroom.


What level of responsibility do you think Facebook has in preventing the spread of fake news on its platform ? ( 4 points)

What level of responsibility do citizens have in preventing the spread of fake news ? (4 points)

President Obama, while in Germany, said “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not … if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.” Thinking about this quote, what is the long term impact, how can it be spread and what impact can our belief in fake news have on our government and society ? (4 points)

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