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Stanford researchers collaborate to test new approaches for combating misinformation

Photo of older man on a computer
A new research project will test methods for improving information literacy among older adults, rural and indigenous communities and other populations overlooked in this area of education. (Photo: Fizkes / Shutterstock)

Stanford researchers collaborate to test new approaches for combating misinformation

The Stanford History Education Group is co-leading a project to improve information literacy among communities usually overlooked by current efforts.

Educators are increasingly recognizing the importance of teaching young people how to spot misinformation on the internet. But these lessons rarely extend beyond the school setting, leaving many people – including older adults and rural and indigenous communities – vulnerable to being deceived by false information online.

A new project co-led by Stanford researchers aims to change that, testing methods of improving information literacy among populations that are usually overlooked in this area of education.

The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), a research and development center based at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE), is collaborating with researchers at MIT, the University of North Carolina and University of Washington on a project to adapt and scale proven interventions designed to combat misinformation. 

The project is one of a dozen funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a major 2021 initiative to address trust and authenticity in communication systems. 

"This is an exciting collaboration that brings together leading researchers from four institutions to address the threat to democracy posed by an increasingly polluted information system,” said Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford and founder of SHEG.

Drawing from approaches that have proven effective in K-12 schools, the project will adapt these interventions for other settings and test their effectiveness with different populations. The researchers will then create targeted interventions for a range of groups outside the formal education system – people who are often excluded from information literacy efforts but are often targeted by misinformation campaigns, such as rural and low-income Americans, older adults and indigenous communities.

Over the past decade, SHEG has done extensive research into how people judge the credibility of online content, identifying skills used by professional fact checkers to assess information. In 2019 SHEG developed a Civic Online Reasoning curriculum to help educators teach students how to evaluate the trustworthiness of online sources. Field tests of the approach have shown it to be effective at both the high school and college levels.

“Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we reach beyond the walls of the classroom to teach more people digital strategies that have been proven to help sort fact from fiction online,” said Joel Breakstone, director of SHEG.  

The project’s lead researchers are Wineburg; Justin Reich, an associate professor of comparative media studies and writing at MIT; Francesca Tripodi, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Sciences; and Michael Caulfield, research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public.

Read more from the National Science Foundation's announcement.

Faculty mentioned in this article: Sam Wineburg

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