Real or fake

Fact-checking for students

When studying for research papers and group projects, students at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) are pressed to branch out and find various sources of information. Quite often they find themselves encountering sources that may conflict, at which point they know they may be encountering information that is skewed and unreliable, or “fake news.” The struggle to avoid perceived “fake news” makes fact-checking and citing sources for papers much more crucial for students.

“Fake news” as a term has existed for a long time, but became more widely used in recent years. In fact, it is so widely used some begin to question what the term means and how to avoid it.

Professor Pilar Graham, a professor teaching human communication 312: Deliberation and Advocacy, pointed to a quote in the textbook “Elements of Argument” to help students be wary of more misleading labels, “A corrupt use of a definition can be used to distort reality. But even where there is no intention to deceive, the snares of definition are difficult to avoid.” Put more simply, some may label information or its source as fake even if it is not, and it is important to understand how one defines “fake” in the first place.

One academic approach in seeking out reliable sources encouraged by teachers is the use of the CSUMB library and its online database. A simple tour of the library can introduce students to the many books available. As for the database, many different classes include a session in the library where students are trained in how to use it. One way to use it is simply entering certain keywords, after which a student can be taken to sources such as books, newspaper articles or encyclopedias to name a few. Another option on the library site is a page which breaks down accessible databases by subject.

When writing an essay, one of the more recommended sources is peer-reviewed journals. Making good use of such scholarly sources not only makes research easier for students, but also strengthens them in the long run. As their college life progresses, a student will have to make good use of fact-based academic sources on a more frequent basis.

Even with these resources at hand, students are still expected to exercise proper judgment in the information they take in. Depending on the kind of work they are performing, some are asked to access information from different sources they may not be keen on. Sociopolitical issues include many different perspectives, and students must learn to navigate the landscape of debates with the ability to tell fact from opinion.

One off-campus method of fact-checking for students is FactCheck.org, a nonprofit website started in 2003. The site is meant to analyze political statements and advertisements, pointing out falsehoods or exaggerations in the US political theater. Much like the CSUMB library database, students can look at FactCheck.org when studying an especially politically charged topic.

As students attempt to avoid “fake” sources and focus on “real” ones, professors and counselors continue to provide them with the means to do so.

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