Teaching children to spot false information online is a passion of library media specialist Anne Marie Griffin.
Every year she teaches students about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. This is an amphibian who survives in water and climbs trees, and is an octopus. It’s described on a website which is dedicated to saving the animal from extinction.
Griffin takes students to the website which provides detailed photos of the octopus who is “intelligent and inquisitive” and climbs trees in rain forests while spending time in an “ancestral aquatic environment.”Students learn from the website about how logging encroaches on the octopus’ habitat, how it migrates and reproduces each spring, and it’s amazing eyesight that is like a human.
There’s a catch. The tree climbing octopus does not not really exist. Griffin uses the website to show students that just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it is true.
“I tell them there isn’t an internet police,” she said. “People can put whatever they want on the internet.”
As they are inundated with information, students have an increasingly difficult time telling fact from fake. Some students can recognize sources such as the New York Times and Fox News as reliable sources, but others identify misleading websites as reliable.