With smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, students have 24/7 access to news, information, and opinions—not all of which are well-informed or well-intentioned. In truth, we are flooded with a constant stream of information online, from legitimate news and facts to websites and social media posts taking sides in intense political debates.

In an age when students get the majority of their information from the internet, how can we make sure they know that not everything they find online is reputable? How can we help students better develop critical thinking skills and become smart consumers of information who also have empathy for others? At a time when anyone with a basic understanding of search engine optimization (SEO) can have his or her personal website appear atop the results of a Google search, students must be able to discern opinion and bias from fact.

Toxic information

Hate speech is content that deliberately tries to divide elements within society. While there are sites on the internet that are blatant about this, most hate speech is subtle and frequently attempts to disguise itself as education, information, or entertainment. This is not restricted to specific websites, but also attitudes that might come up on social media (such as sexist or racist material on Facebook) and in gaming environments.

Students should understand that most people who post information online are looking to convince others of something. Teaching students how to recognize propaganda will empower them to resist these messages.

Online, anyone can pretend to be something they are not. Disguised websites that are malicious or misleading can look professional and authoritative, and writers in chat rooms and blogs might not be who they say they are. Students should be skeptical of any claims until they have confirmed them with a reputable source.

(Next page: Teaching students to recognize threatening speech)

About the Author:

Dr. Ian Jamison is Head of Education at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. An experienced trainer, Ian trains teachers around the world on the Generation Global’s pedagogy of dialogue, working in a number of challenging environments. He is an advocate of the power of dialogue for empowering people to address challenges, build understanding, and positively transform societies. Ian taught Religious Education for 20 years, and has experience of subject leadership in a number of schools, including Head of Religious Education. He won the Guardian Award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in 2007. You can follow Generation Global on Twitter @Gen_Global.