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CTRL-F: Find the Facts is an online verification skills module designed to help students evaluate digital information and determine what to trust.




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Informed Citizenship (elementary)

Being a responsible citizen involves seeking out information from a variety of sources and comparing perspectives on issues of importance. In this lesson, students are assigned one of two social media newsfeeds that centre on a controversial issue: the proposed construction of a solar-panel factory adjacent to their school. One feed is dominated by posts favouring the factory, while the other feed skews heavily toward its opponents. After reviewing their assigned feeds, students vote on whether the proposed solar development should proceed. A debrief discussion follows about how what they read may have informed the vote, and how the information we are exposed to may affect our decisions.

Guiding Questions

  • In what way does information influence my decisions?
  • What are the pros and cons of using online platforms?

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the lesson, students can:

  • Analyze how news and information can influence our opinions on people, events and issues.
  • Describe how algorithms personalize the information they see online.
  • Describe strategies for being responsible consumers of information.

DOWNLOADS AND LINKS

Background Information

As citizens living in a democracy, we have a responsibility to stay informed about the issues that matter to us and to society. This is true all the time, but especially when we must make a meaningful choice at the ballot box.

The introduction of the internet and the rise of social media have been significant for news and information, and complicated for citizens.

Where traditional news organizations were once the gatekeepers of information and the only ones with the resources to disseminate it — printing presses and TV stations are costly to purchase and operate — the internet allows anyone, anywhere to be a publisher.

The rise of blogging and social media a generation ago was widely viewed as the democratization of information, bringing new voices into public discourse and leading to positive social change. The reality of online communication has been more complex.

When news came only from traditional or legacy media — newspapers, TV, and radio — there was always someone who stood between audiences and information, a person or process that filtered the stories or content, checked facts and packaged stories for public consumption.

Where human editors and producers were once the only gatekeepers who decided what news audiences saw, on the internet, that job belongs to algorithms, which are sets of instructions that tell computers how to perform specific tasks, like sorting information.

Social media algorithms work in such a way that we are more likely to see content that is similar to what we already like or agree with. Our social media feeds never give the whole picture.

Since people have become such heavy adopters of social media, they now rely on these sites (such as Facebook or Snapchat) for news. The problem is that social media platforms never intended to be news organizations, and there are consequences for informed citizenship when people rely on friends and the results of algorithms to find out about what is happening in the world.

Informed citizenship involves seeking out news and information from a variety of sources, comparing perspectives and keeping up with new developments. There are things you can do to make sure you are informed, particularly when there is so much information available online.

Starter

Start with an opening conversation about sources of information.

  • Where do you learn about developments happening in the world?
  • Which sources of information do you think are most reliable and why?
  • Do you think it is important to be informed about issues in your community? Why or why not?

Activities

1. Complete the Feed for Thought activity.

In pairs or small groups, ask students to consider how they would become informed to vote in the following scenarios.

a) Introduce the Scenario. A solar-panel company has submitted a proposal to build a factory next to the school, and community members will vote in a referendum to decide whether or not the development should proceed. Students at the school will also have the opportunity to vote and express their choice.

Before voting, you will become familiar with the issue and the people involved by reading through a social media feed that has a mix of articles from news outlets and posts from community members and friends.

b) Read the feeds. Without informing students of the two opposing feeds, provide half the class with the “pro” feed, and the other half with the “anti” feed. If you are using the online version, the link provided will randomly assign students one of the two feeds. Give students 10 minutes to review the information.

c) Vote. Have students vote on whether the factory should be built by raising their hands or by using paper ballots (Activity 1.1). Tabulate the results and announce them to the class.

d) Debrief. Through a whole-class discussion, ask students why they voted the way they did.

Over the course of the discussion, it should become obvious that some students were provided different information than others.

At an appropriate point in the discussion, share the fact that there were two different feeds and give students time to review them side-by-side to compare the differences.

Further questions to prompt discussion:

  • How did you feel about the results of the vote before you knew there were two feeds? Were you surprised by the outcome? Why or why not?
  • How might two people end up with such different news feeds?
  • What are the consequences of people consuming different facts and information?
  • Do you think people should be exposed to different perspectives or more than one side of an issue before making their decision?

2. Discuss Algorithms and Filter Bubbles

Watch the video ‘Behind the Screens – Who Decides What I See Online?’ and/or review the ‘Filter Bubbles and Democracy’ Slide Deck to introduce the concepts of algorithms and filter bubbles, and the effects of the internet and social media on democracy.

Guiding questions:

  • How is online information personalized to me?
  • What happens if we only see information we like or agree with?

Consolidation

In pairs or small groups, ask students to respond to the following questions, then discuss the responses as a class.

  • Why is it important to think critically about online information?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges of the internet and social media for democracy? (This can be completed with a T-Chart.)
  • How can we make sure we are informed citizens? Why should we consider different viewpoints?

Reflections & Assessment

Ask students to fill out the ‘3-2-1 Exit Card

  • What are three things you learned?
  • What are two actions you may take based on what you learned?
  • What is one question you still have?

Extended Learning

Ask students to form pairs and complete Activity 1.3. In the first part of this activity, students will ask their partner questions about their likes and interests to design a profile about them. Afterwards, they will imitate the actions of an algorithm by deciding which videos, music, advertising or paid content they would show their partner.

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