Posted by The RE Guru on 22.07.19 in Guest Blogs

Secondary School Head of RE in Central London

Citizenship GCSE Series – Fake News and it’s Damaging Consequences: Part 2

Part 2 of 2 surrounding the topic of fake news and it's destructive effects on our society. How can we as teachers help to fight this spread of disinformation?

Teaching and Discussing Critical literacy in Citizenship lessons and beyond 

One of the biggest threats to our critical literacy currently comes from Russia. They have a deliberate campaign of disinformation (not to be confused with misinformation- disinformation is deliberate, misinformation is not).

Take the Salisbury attack (not terrorism, but not far off). Russia was clearly behind this attack, to think otherwise you’d have to suspend pretty much all your critical faculties. And yet how Russia responded was masterful (and scary). They released a huge number of theories about it ranging from the plausible to the insane. Their aim here is not to get us to believe a set version of the event- instead, it’s to create confusion. They don’t want our citizens believing one thing- they want them to have polarised versions of the events to breed doubt and discord in society. If we don’t know who to trust, or we actively mistrust others, it weakens the foundation of our society.

Anyone can sit behind a computer screen and challenge mainstream narratives using selective evidence. If they can edit a video with some degree of professionalism, or use technical terms then this adds to the ‘credibility’- despite these spurious claims failing to live up to the most basic of scrutiny. The problem is that for many young people these alternative accounts of events make compelling reading. It’s exciting to think that you hold the knowledge that your teachers, parents and even experts don’t.

As teachers, we have to have confidence in challenging conspiracy theories and fake news and we have to work on this together. It is essential that teachers across all subjects and key stages think about how they can help ensure that our children are resilient.

In English we can point to the power of persuasive speeches and writing throughout history; in History we can champion the importance of ensuring evidence is credible (please let’s not allow more Holocaust deniers!); In RE we can challenge the conspiracy theory narratives of ISIS and even groups like Britain First (who claim to be Christian); in ICT we need to teach children how easy it is to manipulate images/videos etc.

Research has shown that the better educated we are, the less likely we are to fall for these conspiracy theories. We might live in an age of fake news, but if we work together we can ensure that our children don’t fall for the traps set by conspiracy theorists and extremists (who are very often one and the same!).


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