Study highlights student vulnerability to online misinformation

Web Log: Young lack skills to detect sponsored links and fake news amid web returns

Students often favour online sources over university-provided learning materials, and need skills to distinguish reliable information from incorrect and/or manipulative information.

Students often favour online sources over university-provided learning materials, and need skills to distinguish reliable information from incorrect and/or manipulative information.

 

The level of internet literacy among young people has been the subject of several studies. They tend to look at various aspects of internet use including the ability to tell sponsored links apart from the links returned in an internet search or the ability to spot fake news stories.

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and Goethe University Frankfurt have built upon this by developing the Critical Online Reasoning Assessment (Cora). Cora gives students a series of tasks designed to test their reasoning skills. They are presented with a piece of information about a contentious issue and asked to carry out an open web search to evaluate this information.

‘Irrelevant and unreliable’

This study was carried out with students from various disciplines such as medicine and economics and the results were not promising. “Unfortunately, it is becoming evident that a large proportion of students are tempted to use irrelevant and unreliable information from the internet when solving the Cora tasks,” said Prof Olga Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia at JGU.

She explained that having a critical attitude is not enough on its own. Given that students often favour online sources over university-provided learning materials, they also need skills that enable them to distinguish reliable information from incorrect and/or manipulative information.

“It is therefore particularly important for students to question and critically examine online information so they can build their own knowledge and expertise on reliable information,” added Prof Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia.

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