Fake News, Bodies of Work, and Oh So Many Questions

Thursday 12 September 2019

This week, I’ve been focusing on updating our resources and lessons around “fake news.”  I’ve broken it up into a four-part unit.  Don’t feel the need to use all four parts though.  As always, use what you need and discard what doesn’t work for you in your context.  All four parts are linked here, here, here, and here.

Part 1 deals with understanding what is and isn’t fake.  How can students detect what’s real information out there and what’s false, misleading or just a straight up lie?  The first post helps students to answer that key question.  I use two bodies of work in particular to make this happen.  One is from FactCheck.org and the resources they have on their website.  I am deciding to call everything they have produced on their website a body of work.  They are a “a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”  They have videos to help debunk what you see on Facebook and how to spot fake news.  Both videos, in conjunction with three pages on their website make up a body of work in this case. 

I’m not sure though if a website can be a body of work.  It is from one organization with one clear mission and one clear editorial line: does it fit the technical definition of a body of work?  The videos don’t have authors.  The three pages I’m using on the website have different authors.  I know that a body of work should be the same text type and from the same author, when possible.  But I also know that an argument could be made that a website should be a body of work.  With such varied and elaborate non-literary texts out there in the world, it seems impossible at times to figure out what is and what isn’t a body of work – as set forth by the IB. 

Part of me doesn’t care though.  By getting so worked up about what is and what isn’t a body of work, I’m missing the bigger picture: trying to help students navigate the media landscape around them in ways that will help them be more critical consumers of the news.  These five non-literary texts, taken together, have a clear unified purpose in helping the general public spot fake news – in emails, on Facebook, in the media and more.  They all fall under the same authorship (FactCheck.org).  And they are all on the same webpage.  For those reasons, I feel comfortable – for now – in calling this a body of work.  I also think students will be able to connect one small section of one of these texts well enough to the bigger picture and mission of the website in their IO.  I don’t see this as a problem. 

The same can be said about the second body of work.  It comes from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).  Again, all their documents have been sourced from their website.  And again, the question becomes, can a website be a body of work?  There’s an infographic, speech, blog post and statement about fake news by the IFLA.  But the speech has one clear author, the blog post another and the infographic and statement come from the organization themselves.  Of course, all four are different text types.  Does the IB expect us to study 6 infographics made by the same creator?  15 infographics?  22 of them?  I just don’t know.  Thematically, these are all linked and they all fall under the same “authorship” in a very broad sense (the IFLA).  Until I hear unequivocally from the IB that websites – and the immense variety of non-literary texts found on a reputable organization’s site is not okay – I’m going to take the chance.  Why?  I care more about helping students decode what is or isn’t fake news.  I care more about equipping them with the tools to survive in the media thunderstorm we live in than debating the arcane details of what makes up or what doesn’t make up a body of work for a student’s Individual Oral.  Of course, if I find out this isn’t legit, I’ll make the necessary changes. 

Finally, here at InThinking, we have posted a heap of resources about this topic for the old course (last exams in November of 2020) and we think it is worth checking them out before embarking on this unit of study.  You might find something you like more or a resource you want to use when tackling this topic with your students.  They include:

1.   Understanding News Values

Purpose: to critically appraise how the ‘common sense’ worldview of mainstream news media shapes and influences perceptions of the social world.

2.  The Role of Media Institutions in Presidential Debates                                                                                   

Purpose: to figure out the truth of what politicians say during a debate and how a moderator should respond

3.  Brexit: The Language of Politics

Purpose: to explore political discourse and not the idiosyncrasies of a complex political debate. 

4.  Just the Facts – Media and Ethics

Purpose: to understand editorial standards and ethics in an era of rapidly changing social media

5.  The Language of Donald Trump Part 1 and Part 2

Purpose: to analyze the language of then U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump

6.  Blog Posts: David has also written three extensive blog posts ("The Walls That Divide Us," "President Trump: Like?," and "Flagging the Homeland Daily.") that in some way deal with the media, politics, and how to respond in our Language and Literature classroom.  They are worth reading. 



Tags: Tim, fake news, bodies of work

Comments 1

Nancy Elberg 1 October 2019 - 11:46

Thanks, Tim! I was worried about not being able to use FactCheck or other useful websites.

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