Contributed by guest blogger Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

Over the last year researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education studied how students from middle school to college evaluated online sources of information. The results were grim.

More than 80% of middle-schoolers believed that paid advertiser content was a real news story. The majority of students didn’t verify or research a picture, to see where it came from, they simply accepted the picture as truth. Students also failed to examine bias or political agenda in ads and in one exercise more than half of the students thought the article from the suspect and biased organization was more reliable than a well-established organization.

According to one researcher, "Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there…Our work shows the opposite.”

The ability to evaluate information is more important now than ever. The recent election results attest to this. In the last three months of the 2016 presidential election, fake news sites received more engagement than real news sites. The implications in being able to navigate online goes beyond politics, affecting health, finances, social issues and more.

After school providers play a role in helping students develop critical thinking skills. These professionals are on the ground with students as they work on homework, discuss current issues, participate in social media and online discussions and more.

After school professionals have an opportunity to encourage students to evaluate information. When a student views a story, picture, video or other media that seems suspect, encourage them to take these three steps:

  1. Go to the source- Where did the story come from? Is it sponsored content?
  2. Examine media bias- What are the motives of the story? What does the author or organization that publishes it have to gain?
  3. Think critically- Is the story citing peer-reviewed and research-based content? What year did the story come out? Who is linking to or sharing the story?

Developing critical thinking skills takes time and effort, it is easier to agree with content that agrees with our own perceptions and biases than to examine it further.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is an information professional, freelance journalist and CEO of Digital Respons-Ability She regularly trains and teaches on information literacy. Carrie can be contacted at

Published in Utah Afterschool Blog