Iqaluit students learn to spot fake news, debunk stereotypes

·2 min read

In a classroom at Iqaluit’s Aqsarniit Middle School, Rhiannon Bourassa said she wrote “men” on one whiteboard, “women” on the other, and her Grade 8 students came up and wrote stereotypes they heard of or saw online underneath each category.

Within minutes, Bourassa said, each label had dozens of words associated with it: under men, the kids wrote that they play sports, are strong and are the breadwinners. Under women, they said they cook, clean and raise children.

Bourassa said the class then discussed if the stereotypes were accurate, and if the students saw it to be true in their own lives.

“Do we actually see that in our everyday lives? Are your parents divided by these roles?” Bourassa recalls asking.

Then, in groups, the students went through advertisements and picked apart what stereotypes were represented in them, made a poster, and talked about where stereotypes and biases come from.

It was one of many lessons that Bourassa created to teach her students how to cast a critical eye on digital and print media, and to identify harmful racial and gender stereotypes.

Bourassa said her students were coming to her every day with conspiracy theories and sensationalized stories they saw online.

They’d discuss how accurate it was and whether it was harmful or not, she said.

The lessons came about in late February to early March, when Bourassa decided to formalize the discussions into group projects.

“We live in a media-saturated world,” said Bourassa, who is in her second year of teaching at Aqsarniit. “I thought it would be a good idea if we talked about that as a whole class and do a series of lessons … so that they’re safe consumers of media.”

Bourassa said the class also learned about the difference between news articles and editorials, how to vet sources by looking up the authors of articles and who owns news organizations, and how to fact check stories by using websites like Snopes.

“They don’t know what bias is until we actually define these terms and talk about them. So I think they were really interested in knowing where it all came from,” said Bourassa.

They looked at sensationalized articles from tabloids that painted celebrities in a certain way, and at the conspiracy that COVID-19 vaccines contain a tracking chip, Bourassa said.

They also talked about the difference between misinformation and satirical articles that are found on websites such as the Beaverton or the Onion.

At the end of the lessons, the students researched different aspects of what they called fake news, defined them and created posters for the younger students in the school to learn from, Bourassa said.

“They’re definitely aware of what’s happening more than we give them credit for,” she said. Now, “they’re able to not only recognize that something they could be sharing … is harmful, but they’re able to educate their peers.”

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News