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Tech group teaches students how to sort fact and fiction online

Tech group teaches students how to sort fact and fiction online

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ABINGDON, Va. — Like a lot of teens today, 18-year-old Kyndall Foster stays connected to the world by getting the majority of her news online.

But after last week’s presentation at Abingdon High School, the Student Council Association president said she will be more aware of identifying information that may be false, or "fake news."

“I hope the students left this presentation being more wary of what they read online and also knowing they have the tools to research questionable information,” said the high school senior. 

The live teaching event was delivered by the Poynter Institute as part of the MediaWise project, a Google News Initiative funded by the technology company. As many as 2,500 middle and high school students in Washington County attended the two-day event that focused on teaching teens how to fact-check the internet.

The groundbreaking digital literacy project is being presented in schools throughout the country, introducing ways for middle and high school students to sort fact from fiction. The program’s goal is to educate 1 million teenagers — half of them from underserved communities — on how to identify fake news online by 2020.

The program’s first ambassador of the program is Lester Holt, host of NBC’s “Nightly News.”

Earlier this year, Holt helped lead a MediaWise event at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., where he helped teach students how to spot misleading and false information online.

Wendy Davis, assistant principal at Abingdon High School, became interested in bringing the program to the school after seeing it introduced on a news broadcast.

“The presentations will provide the opportunity for students to live and manage their time better in a digital world,” she said.

“A majority — if not all — of the information that teens read, hear and experience is through some sort of social media. Being able to separate fact from fiction is a critical thinking skill that is really necessary in our everyday lives, especially through the avenue of social media.

“Teens are inundated with digital information all the time, and there’s a lot of information on the internet that can’t be trusted,” she said.

“This generation gets news feeds from social media platforms. It’s important they have some type of knowledge base that can guide them on how to sort fact from fiction.”

During the presentation in Abingdon High School’s auditorium, Josie Hollingsworth and Heaven Taylor-Wynn, representatives of MediaWise, showed the students a variety of slides with information that may or may not be authentic.

The students in the audience were asked to use their smartphones to determine the soundness of the information.

“Is this fact or fiction?” asked the representatives onstage.

According to the facilitators, what you read online effects how you view the world around you, your impressions on important issues and even how you choose to vote.

Both facilitators confessed they have been victims of sharing false online information.

“I shared false information about the royal wedding on Twitter,” said Hollingsworth. “I didn’t realize it was false. It was just celebrity gossip.”

During the presentation, they provided tools to help teens distinguish what information is truthful. Those tips include:

Lateral reading. The facilitators encouraged the students to use “lateral reading” to find alternative sources to determine if information is authentic.

One of the best ways to check the facts is to rely on multiple online sources to find out if a claim is true. They suggest opening up other tabs on the computer to compare information from other reputable sources.

Reverse Google image search. To investigate a questionable picture on the internet, simply right-click on the image and select “search Google for the image” in the drop-down menu that appears on the Chrome browser. The search will reveal all the times that image was used and sometimes links to fact-checking sites that show how it’s been used in false stories.

Native advertising vs. news. Look for the words “promoted,” “advertisement” and “sponsored” in the document to help determine what is promotional advertising or an actual news story. Website owners earn money simply by users clicking on an advertisement placed in the content.

Wikipedia. While Wikipedia is criticized for being unreliable, there are a few ways to check it for accuracy. The presenters advised students to read the citations at the bottom of the Wikipedia document. If the citations link to a primary source, a scholarly journal or a reputable news outlet, chances are the document is legit.

The MediaWise project is part of the Google News Initiative and funded by The Poynter-led project includes contributions from partners SHEG, Local Media Association (LMA) and the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE).

Follow MediaWise at and on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at

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