How to spot fake news and propaganda
Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any resources you know of that can help people detect fake news? My 75-year-old mother shares a lot of misinformation she sees on Facebook with her family and friends.
I’ve talked to her about it, but for some reason she has a difficult time deciphering real news from fake news and propaganda.
Unfortunately, the digital misinformation problem your mom is experiencing is not uncommon. According to researchers from Princeton and New York University, people aged 65 and older are up to seven times more likely to share fake news and dubious links on social media than their younger counterparts.
Why? There are several theories. The first is that many older adults started using social media sites like Facebook only within the past five or six years and may lack the digital literacy skills to identify false or misleading content.
Some other possible theories are that those who experience some cognitive decline as they age are more likely to fall for hoaxes. Many older adults also suffer from chronic loneliness, which can cause them to share misinformation as an attempt to make connections with other people.
Furthermore, studies have shown that older generations are generally more trusting than younger generations, which can make them more susceptible to misinformation.
All this is particularly concerning now as we sit in the midst of a global health pandemic and a 2020 election season, both of which are ripe with misinformation, rumors and conspiracy theories.
Older adults are prime targets of this false/misleading information because they are much more likely to vote than their younger cohorts, and are much more vulnerable to getting sick and dying if they contract COVID-19.
Free online resources
To help your mom detect and combat online misinformation there are several great resources she can turn to that offer free courses and tips.
One is MediaWise for Seniors, a project of the Poynter Institute, which offers two free online courses to help seniors detect and combat online misinformation. See Poynter.org/mediawise-for-seniors.
The first four-week course has already filled up, but your mom can still enroll in a self-directed course called “Hands-On Lessons to Separate Fact and Fiction Online.” The four-lesson course, with sessions being released into October, is hosted by Christiane Amanpour and Joan Lunden and can be watched at any time after it airs.
In addition, Poynter has worked with AARP to produce Fact Tracker interactive videos and a webinar on spotting and filtering misinformation at AARP.org/facttracker.
Some other free course options you should look into include Senior Planet, which is offering a one-hour online course on “How to Spot Fake News” at SeniorPlanet.org.
The News Literacy Project that provides the Checkology virtual classroom, which was initially created for middle and high school students, is now offering an independent learning option that is ideal for older adults. See Get.Checkology.org. Their lessons will help your mom detect the difference between news, opinion and propaganda.
And Coursera, a free worldwide online learning platform, offers an in-depth six-week course called “Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens,” which she can access at Coursera.org/learn/news-literacy.
Check out the latest claim
There are also many good websites, like PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com and FactCheck.org that will let your mom fact-check a story to help her identify fact versus fiction. These sites have most likely already fact-checked the latest viral claim to pop up in her news feed.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.