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Which School Subjects Fight Fake News?

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that misinformation is horrible. There are way too many people falling for it online! They read something on Facebook or Twitter and buy it completely, which is really worrying to me. When our minds are filled with lies, we can never be truly free. We’d never know how we might have acted if we had all the facts. That’s why we have to fight fake news.

Some social media platforms have taken a few steps to combat it. For example, YouTube provides context with its information panels. However, that’s not enough to fight this war against lies. Every single one of us needs to become a truth soldier. That’s something that starts in schools.

If students grow up with the tools that they need to fight fake news, they will be much less likely to fall for it in the long run. So, they won’t fall for the liars online. That means that the people pumping out fake news will get fewer likes, follows, subscribers and shares. They won’t have the same reach that they do now. It will stop fake news in its tracks.

The good news is that we don’t need to change things all that much. There are already some amazing subjects that teach us the tools we need to succeed in this war. It’s just a matter of understanding what we learn and why that’s important. Once teachers and students understand that, we’ll be in a place to challenge what we read and make a difference.

So, let me explain to you which school subjects fight fake news and how they do it.

Why Fake News and Misinformation are Dangerous

There are so many reasons why it is important for us to fight fake news. The one that stands out most to me is how much it kills our freedom of choice.

Say you get fed a daily dose of lies from your favourite social media platform. You see the same lie come up over and over again. It seeps into your mind until you can’t help but believe it. Whether you like it or not, that is going to screw up your thoughts and choices.

I mean, it’s not like most of these social media lies are innocent, right? It’s all about big, global plots and chips in our brains. It’s got to be that extreme! Otherwise, no one would care. It’s got to cause you outrage, or it isn’t going to stick in your mind.

If you think that lizard people are trying to take over the world, you are going to act accordingly. You’ll build an underground bunker and stock up on food. While you swap all your money for gold, you’ll stop only long enough to vote for the one person who you think can save the day. You might miss out on all of red flags above their heads.

That’s the problem. Fake news changes the way you would act in a situation. You might find yourself voting for a person you hate because fake news has been spread about the other guy you actually kind of liked. If you’re making choices based on lies, are they really your choices after all?

There are lots of bad actors out there who know exactly what they’re doing. They’ll tell you that a politician eats babies so you vote for the other guy. So, who’s controls your decisions? You or them?

It’s a pretty scary thought.

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The Subjects That Can Protect Students from Fake News

So, we need to teach people to fight back against fake news. That education needs to start pretty early, so it becomes second nature to them. What better place to give them the weapons they need than in school?

The good news about school is that there are a lot of subjects that can help you fight against fake news.

That’s right: you don’t have to add all-new subjects or learn all-new information. Lots of the subjects you already learn at school can be a huge help in the fight. The only thing we need to do is reframe how we think about them.

That means teachers need to think about how their subject can help to tackle fake news. Then, they need to share this information with students. That way, everyone is on the same page and they know what the point is. After all, lots of students already have the skills to tackle misinformation. They just have no clue that they can use those skills outside of the subject.

Of course, there are subjects I wish we would do at an earlier stage. I’ll go over those after I cover what we’ve already got! However, there is some great stuff that we can tap into already! I’m not saying we have to overhaul the whole syllabus.

It’s about being much more deliberate in class. Right now, we teach the skills and then just wait and see if students will use them to fight fake news. It’s pretty much like flipping a coin. Will they realise they should check sources online, too? Who knows.

That’s got to change. We’ve got to make it clear how our subjects can help in this fight. The first step is to identify how each subject helps. So, let me start there.

English Language

As an English teacher, my subject will always be the first thing I think of. It’s an excellent way to help students learn how to fight back against fake news and misinformation. It’s pretty funny, actually. There are so many ways English can help that I struggled to write this section. How can I pack all of that info in without making it way too long?

In English, you have to learn to talk about how words affect people. It’s one of the most important skills teachers need to give you! A good essay is full of close analysis. You should pick out words and phrases and explain how they influence the reader’s thoughts and feelings.

This is a really important skill when it comes to tackling fake news. Misinformation can’t rely on the truth to convince you. So, it leans on half-truths, twisting the facts, and appealing to your emotions.

Fake news writers pack their work with provocative language. It is supposed to make you feel angry or afraid. Why? Well, it’s much easier to make someone’s logic shut down when they’re feeling such a negative emotion. Then, they can slip crappy statistics past your eye without you noticing as much.

So, that’s why English is such a helpful subject. It should get you into the habit of asking the question, “what is this piece of writing trying to make me think and feel?” Once you notice that you’re supposed to be angry or scared, you can ask yourself why. You can look at it from a much more objective position.

Of course, there are many other ways that English can help, too. I’ve just run out of space. Look out for the blog post with the rest of them soon.

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Science

Science is probably the most obvious subject we need to fight fake news.

That’s because many of the people writing these lies rely on the public’s lack of scientific knowledge. If it sounds sciencey enough and they throw enough jargon in there, they’re pretty sure we aren’t going to fact-check them. Even if we tried, it’s not like science journals are easy to read.

That’s why it’s so important to get a good baseline understanding of science. Sure, you might not be able to read an academic study. That doesn’t mean you won’t know enough to fight back.

At school, your science teachers should teach you a basic run-down of the most important topics: radiation, immunisation, genes and chromosomes, the periodic table, chemical reactions, evolution… All of this will help you to be mindful when you are reading lies online.

Every fake news creator will claim they have science on their side. If we all knew a little more about science, this strategy wouldn’t work anymore. We’d all be able to call them out on their lies, and we wouldn’t be liking and sharing things we don’t understand.

Science helps us to focus on the facts. That way, we are less likely to be trapped by what feels right. We’re not going to believe someone immediately just because they sound smart. We’ll be able to ask the right questions to check if someone is telling the truth. We’ll know where to start our research when fact-checking a claim.

Science is essential. That’s why the government has made it a core subject all the way up to GCSE.

Maths

In my fight against fake news, I’ve read a lot of articles full of misinformation online. I can tell you this: they really abuse statistics!

We are more likely to believe something if it has statistics in it. It makes sense, right? A statement without statistics seems pretty wishy-washy. You might as well have just pulled the idea right out of your brain.

But what happens when those statistics are made up or misused? Well, it makes it much easier for people to fall for fake news. Incorrect maths and fake news go hand in hand.

Maths class teaches students all about how statistics work. You learn about fractions, ratios and percentages. You study mean, mode, median and range. All of these things give you the basic groundwork for reading statistics.

A good maths teacher will add to that by encouraging students to think about when we use these things. Why would you want to use the median over the mean? How would that skew the information you’re giving people?

There are so many different ways you can present the same information in maths. That’s what makes it so easy for fake news producers to use actual facts to deceive us. For an untrained eye, 90/100 and 90% seem like much more than 9/10. In reality, they’re all equal.

And that’s when the statistics are correct! I’ve seen cases where a fake news article gives a bunch of percentages that add up to more than 100%. Lots of people didn’t even notice it – or they didn’t know.

Maths teachers are some of the most important soldiers in the fight against fake news. They teach us how to read statistics and how to watch out for inaccuracies. So, pay attention in class.

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History

History is not all about learning facts and dates. That’s like saying maths is all about learning how to count. Sure, it’s a vital skill you need to succeed. However, it’s just the start.

History is really about studying the causes, effects and significance of events. You think about how actions and decisions impact what comes after them. Most importantly, you learn that every historian has their own interpretations.

One of the first things you (should) learn in KS3 history is about questioning how reliable a source might be. You may remember some of these words:

  • Reliability
  • Nature
  • Origin
  • Purpose
  • Utility
  • Bias

Then, your next job is to question the historians. Sure, any reliable historian has the facts. However, that doesn’t mean they’ve used them in a way you agree with. So, you use your reliable sources and knowledge of the facts to assess how much you agree with them.

Basically, history class is the best place to be exposed to a really important idea: using the facts doesn’t stop you from being biased. Even textbooks are biased! So why would you swallow an article’s or blog post’s claims without questioning anything?

Words like “reliability” aren’t just reserved for primary and secondary historical sources. They’re things you should apply to everything you read. How reliable is it? How do I know that? What is the bias? How might that affect how the writer talks about the information? This will help you to weed out the lies better.

If you want to boost your history education, learn about events from all over the world – not just Europe. That will help you to challenge your own Eurocentric bias, too.

Honourable Mentions

So, there are four main subjects that I think are essential for fighting fake news. I chose those ones because they offer us all a great deal of help. We can learn a lot from them that we can apply to our activities online.

Plus, it is likely that almost every student in the UK will do these subjects for most of their school life. In fact, you only really have the option of dropping history at GCSE. All of the others? They’re core subjects. That gives teachers a great opportunity to teach the skills that students need.

However, there are plenty of other subjects that help in the war against fake news. Just like the other four I mentioned, all of these subjects are taught up until KS3. They’re very useful and deserve an honourable mention.

If you think I’ve missed anything, let me know.

  • Geography helps you to understand globalisation and global politics. It challenges you to think about the impact that we have on the world. That’s a huge help for fake news.
  • A good drama curriculum won’t just teach you how to act out emotions. It will teach you to observe and analyse how other people do it, too. I can’t vouch for those “body language experts” on YouTube. However, I can say it’s much easier to tell someone’s acting or lying if you’ve done drama.
  • An ICT education where you learn about algorithms will teach you how fake news spreads around social media.
  • Religious education is essential because it helps you to learn the truth about other religions. We learn that people of different religions and atheists aren’t really that different. We gain an appreciation for other people’s customs and beliefs. So, fake news producers can’t divide our communities based on fear.
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Other Subjects We Should Teach Earlier to Fight Fake News

The curriculum at the moment contains a nice range of subjects. However, it isn’t perfect. In fact, there is a lot of work we can still do. I think there needs to be an update to the core subjects. We need to get with the times.

We all start studying subjects like history and maths from a very early age. After all, they are both on the list of compulsory KS1 and KS2 subjects in the UK. So, it’s much easier for teachers to teach their students how to defend themselves against fake news. They have years to do it!

However, there are some subjects we only get to pick at A-level – or GCSE, if you’re lucky. In that case, we teachers have four years at the very best to teach you everything you need to know. At the very worst, we only have one year because you’re only doing our subject for AS. That’s not a lot of time at all.

Since there’s so little time, the focus has to be on the exams. The stakes are very high! Teachers are on a time crunch, so we’re going to focus on teaching you the content you need to pass. Why? Well, getting a good grade will help you to move on in your life. It opens up opportunities for you. Unfortunately, that means that life skills take a back seat.

But if we’re going to fight fake news properly, we need those life skills. These subjects aren’t just there to get you to uni. They actually help you to protect yourself against misinformation. That’s why it’s so important that we teach them to younger students!

Here are the subjects I think need to be taught earlier.

Media Studies

The media is more important in our lives than it has ever been. Since the internet became common, it’s slowly seeped more and more into our lives. Now, you need the internet for almost everything you do! With the increase in internet interaction comes an increase in news, videos, images, podcasts, blog posts, comments, status updates, and so much more.

In media studies, you learn a vital skill: media literacy. It is an important skill that helps you to understand the message, purpose and effects of the media you consume. It teaches you how to ask yourself, “what is this text trying to convince me of?” You start to see that all media is manipulative and use that to protect yourself in the fight against fake news.

Decades ago, the government and corporations had a lot more control over the media you consumed. There were a limited number of TV channels for you to watch or radio stations for you to listen to. This could be both good and bad.

It did prevent children from being exposed to things they weren’t old enough to learn or understand. Plus, it made it a tiny bit more difficult for people to feed us blatant lies. The journalists could call them out for it!

However, it also meant that governments and corporations had loads of control over how we all thought. They could use that control to make propaganda and hide truths that didn’t suit their agenda.

On the internet, there’s way too much stuff to control like that. It means that we get to see perspectives that were never allowed before. However, it also means that the standards aren’t as high. People can feed you lies much easier.

Media literacy makes you more aware of those lies.

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Politics

So many young people know nothing about how our government works. In fact, so many people of all ages know nothing! We vote for the person who seems to be saying things that make sense – if we even vote at all. We don’t know our rights or how to push for change.

It is so easy to fall for lies if you don’t know anything about politics. Politicians feed us with political jargon and invent things to convince us to vote for someone we don’t agree with.

Let me give you a recent example. There were lots of elections after the pandemic lockdowns ended. Power changed hands around the same time that countries started or left wars. During that time of chaos, it was very easy for politicians to take credit for things they didn’t do. On many occasions, they could even blame their opposition for a mistake they made when they were in power.

The time between two governments is really blurry for people who don’t know a lot about politics. You’ve voted for a president or prime minister, sure. However, have they taken over yet? Are they responsible for the bad things that happen straight away? Or did the previous leader still have power for a little while longer?

Politicians take advantage of that unsure time to feed us lies. The worst part is that we fall for it! It’s not even our fault! No one taught us how power is transferred in our own darn country!

I had to go to uni to find out how our government works. Considering that we can vote from 18, that’s way too late. We should all know how to vote and what each party stands for long before we turn 18. Otherwise, our choices aren’t really our own.

Sociology

Sociology is all about society. It teaches us how people interact, how society changes and how the actions of humans have an impact on the world around them. If you ask me, that makes it pretty important to learn.

Along with media studies, sociology is the subject where you get to learn explicitly about fake news. Many sociologists dedicate their studies to learning how fake news spreads, how it hurts us, and how to fight it.

You get to learn how fake news is used to uphold unfair hierarchies or demonise and other people from minority communities. You find out what people are doing to stop it and what you can do to help. Sociology gives you the tools to analyse the tools and effects of lies and misinformation.

If you find out how and why people are spreading lies, it is much easier for you to do something about it. You can help to find the source of the fake news and challenge it there, stopping it from spreading too far. Plus, you can start to notice patterns that will protect you against the lies even more.

Sociology is different to all of the other subjects I’ve mentioned here in this blog post. All of the others give you subtle skills that you didn’t even know could help you. With this subject? It’s your chance to look misinformation directly in the eye and get the weapons you need to kill it.

To be honest, there are many other reasons why I think we all need to study sociology, too. It helps us to understand people from other identities, backgrounds and cultures. That increases our empathy and helps us to all find a common ground. Bad-faith actors will have a hard time using fear to turn us against each other.

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Philosophy

Lots of people think that philosophy is about asking wishy-washy questions and reading long, boring books. That is quite a big part of the aesthetic, sure, but there is so much more to it than that!

In philosophy, there are many topics that play a big part in fighting against fake news. Here are a few of them:

  • Epistemology is about studying knowledge. When philosophers study epistemology, they ask questions about how we gain knowledge and where it comes from. Of course, that makes epistemology a big part of the study of fake news. It helps you to think about why people consider lies to be knowledge and how that hurts the truth.
  • The study of logic is an important way to challenge the things that fake news producers say. Fake news producers often say wrong things in a very intelligent-sounding way to knock your guard down. For example, they might use thought-terminating clichés or other bad reasoning strategies to stop us from seeing the holes in their ideas. Studying logic will help you to see through fallacies.
  • As the icing on the cake, it is good to study ethics when talking about the issue of fake news, too. It helps you to think about what makes fake news so bad and why it is important to fight it.

If you want to think freely, philosophy is your friend. Unlike fake news, it doesn’t rely on you feeling like you’re right or thinking that something must be right if so many people disagree. Instead, it uses the best minds and most academic ideas. You’ll have the tools to challenge what you hear and take control of your mind.

Psychology

If you want to know how people fall for fake news, studying psychology is the way to go.

There is so much out there on the psychology of propaganda. A lot of it applies to fake news, too. It explains what makes these lies convincing and why we’re likely to fall for it.

What’s most interesting to me is that people are less likely to fight fake news at some points in their lives. We often hear that young people are impressionable and easy to influence. They’re not the ones falling for all the lies on Facebook, though. So, why is it that older people struggle to fight fake news? Well, part of it is about going through big changes in your life when your support system might not have your back. That’s something that psychology is equipped to notice and address.

I’ve said time and time again that all language is manipulative. Usually, it sits better with people when I explain that I mean “all language is trying to make someone think or do something”. That’s a little vague for my liking, to be honest. When it comes to fake news and propaganda, though, I don’t need to play down my ideas like that. It is trying to manipulate you and it is malicious.

The good news is that psychology is the perfect subject to learn how others manipulate us. If you want to look up how cults work or why fake news works, it is a great idea to have at least a basic understanding of how the human mind works.

Plus, you’ll be less likely to fall for people who seem like experts making outrageous claims.

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How You Can Fight Fake News in Your Daily Life

Now you know that school is a massive help in the fight against fake news. You know which subjects help the most and how you can make the most out of what you learn. But what happens if you don’t have access to all these subjects? How can you join the fight?

Well, there are many things that you can do. First of all, make sure you’re a good role model. Encourage other people to take the subjects you couldn’t and show that you’re sceptical of the news online.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Don’t believe anything you read on social media.
  • Check the source of a piece of information before you believe it.
  • Find reputable sources of information – usually people who have studied a topic professionally for years.
  • Check that more than one source is backing up the information.
  • Make sure all the articles aren’t pointing to the same original source.
  • Read about a news story from lots of different political angles.
  • Be wary of people who are trying to ban subjects or topics from schools.
  • If people are spreading something you know is fake news, add the truth into the narrative.

Just keep on your toes. Remember that a source isn’t bad just because it comes from “big pharma” or the government. However, also remember not to trust a source just because it comes from someone who looks reputable. Governments do lie. Someone with a doctorate in economics shouldn’t be your source of info on the human body.

If you’re a parent – or you’re just really keen to do more to help in the battle – check out my blog post on protecting young minds.

Good luck.

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