If you thought fake online news was a problem for impressionable adults, it's even worse for the younger crowd. A Stanford study of 7,804 middle school, high school and college students has found that most of them couldn't identify fake news on their own. Their susceptibility varied with age, but even a large number of the older students fell prey to bogus reports. Over two thirds of middle school kids didn't see why they shouldn't trust a bank executive's post claiming that young adults need financial help, while nearly 40 percent of high schoolers didn't question the link between an unsourced photo and the claims attached to it.
Why did many of the students misjudge the authenticity of a story? They were fixated on the appearance of legitimacy, rather than the quality of information. A large photo or a lot of detail was enough to make a Twitter post seem credible, even if the actual content was incomplete or wrong. There are plenty of adults who respond this way, we'd add, but students are more vulnerable than most.
As the Wall Street Journal explains, part of the solution is simply better education: teach students to verify sources, question motivations and otherwise think critically. That's happening in some schools. However, the data also illustrates the responsibilities that internet companies and parents share in keeping a lid on fake news. Facebook and Google can help by taking down these stories or depriving their creators of ad money, but parents also need to talk about accuracy and prevent younger kids from accessing sites with significant accuracy problems.