Before you read this article, look at these pictures and answer this: is there enough in the picture to verify that the picture is real?
Last week, my English class and I were asked to look at the image of ‘mutated flowers’ posted on someone’s twitter account. It claimed that it was a picture of flowers near the Fukushima Plant in Japan. Our teacher asked us whether there was enough evidence within the picture to validate the picture’s authenticity.
The image had some funky looking daisies in a small bush surrounded by gravel. It had no reference to Fukushima in the photo, nor did it even have anything that indicated it was taken in Japan. The person who posted the tweet was not verified and had very few views and likes.
There was no evidence that could support the tweeter’s claim, yet 30% of my class believed that there was enough evidence. In a study from Stanford, they did a similar experiment where they only showed the picture to middle school, high school, and college students from 12 different states. They ended up evaluating over 7,800 students and over 80% of people accepted the photograph as true.
I have to wonder why so many people believed the photo in a test designed to make more people question its authenticity. They were looking at the photo in a study where someone is asking you to look at the photo and draw a conclusion from it. I believe that even more people would believe the photo if they were simply scrolling through their twitter feed.
While that is speculation, the stats they got are already unnerving, as well as the data from my class. My class is an advanced AP level class who should have caught the numerous ‘holes’ of authenticity in the photo. Their study with over 7,800 students found had even worse results. The Stanford study also had students look at things like news articles and found similarly poor results.
There is clearly a problem, and it is one with a fairly simple solution. Parents need to teach their children how to identify real news. If schools want to help students identify real news too, that’s fine. However, it isn’t a part of any curriculum so it isn’t the responsibility of schools. Parents need to take responsibility for their children and their preparedness for the future.
Another issue could be that teenagers and young adults might not care enough to take the time. I have difficulty believing that 80% of 7,800 students was unable to tell whether something was valid. I think they simply didn’t care enough to closely inspect the picture.
Make sure you take the time to inform those around you on how to identify what news is real and what news is fabricated. If this trend continues, people will soon believe that “theonion.com” is a real news site. I do not want to live in that world.