At the end of their week of lessons on media literacy, Grade 8 students at Aqsarniit Middle School were asked to create a poster about fake news to help other students think critically about what they read online. (Photo courtesy of Rhiannon Bourassa)

Iqaluit students learn to spot fake news, debunk stereotypes

Aqsarniit Middle School teacher Rhiannon Bourassa teaches her students to think critically about what they see online

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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.”

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(21) Comments:

  1. Posted by Cold island bear on

    The fact that you gotta teach students this, shows you, that common sense has gone out the window along with common knowledge. If you gotta use any of the listed websites you should not be on the internet.
    Can picture all the students calling “fake news” on every single thing they read about then having to search it up to figure out if true or not.

  2. Posted by No Moniker on

    To readers who say this shows a breakdown of ‘common sense’ I would say that your notions of what ‘common sense’ accounts for very often reflect biases informed by things like family lore, culture or ideology. At best these roughly approximate truths, at worst they reinforce commonly held delusions and fictions.

    Part of living in an age of information is contending with massive amounts of misinformation. This is a reality that, paradoxically, demands an intimate awareness of the information ecosphere to be understood. That is, the motivations, biases and worldviews of the actors producing information.

    • Posted by larry on

      Now,come on we all know,if it is on Facebook,twitter,fox news,or National enquirer,its true.

      • Posted by No Moniker on

        It’s actually interesting how much influence Twitter, and social media, has over more traditional media today. For perspective read Bari Wiess’ resignation letter from the New York Times, which is a great commentary on the state of traditional media in general. Also note the growing class of semi-nomadic journalists (Glenn Greenwald, Matthew Yglesias, Andrew Sullivan, Jesse Singal) from the Times and other major publications that have migrated to places like Twitter, Substack and the world of podcasts and where they can produce their own content. None of this is surprising given the advance of social media and the technological means for public thinkers to connect more directly to their audience. Podcasting itself has become a major challenge to traditional media for this reason; real conversations not controlled and scripted by editorial boards increasingly controlled by young, zealous and inexperienced ideologues (NYT good example), or corporate interests (Fox indeed, but MSNBC and CNN).

        Of course, traditional media has pushed back hard on these new spaces under the righteous design of protecting the public from misinformation; the war on social media site Parler (panned for being ‘extreme right wing’) is an example, or the NYT hit piece on Clubhouse, a social media platform that uses voice communication (invite only, I’ve never been).

        If you’re interested in these issues check out this substack piece by Glenn Greenwald:

        The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows

  3. Posted by Doug Brunet on

    My compliments to Rhiannon Bourassa for taking the initiative by bringing this subject to her classroom. Indeed, any study of the history of any culture in any era demonstrates how propaganda and misinformation have ever been deeply influential. Modern social media is particularly impactful due to its’ immediate and far reaching nature. One may consider this to be required learning for youth across all societies and cultures as they prepare themselves to take on what future is being handed to them. We should all take care in metering out what is informative and productive against what is manipulative and subversive.

  4. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Where to start with “Fake News”, and I’m sure that I will get down voted to oblivion;
    God (any one of literally thousands, take your pick)
    Life after Death
    Life Before Birth
    Ancient Aliens
    Paranormal Activity
    Most Conspiracy Theories
    We’re From the Government, We’re Here To Help
    I think that you get the idea.
    Just to clarify on “Aliens”, yes they exist, no they have not visited Earth. Space is “BIG” and matter in this universe is (probably) limited to the speed of light. BTW the universe is very “BIG” – roughly 100 billion galaxies and maybe 100 billion trillion stars.
    Have a nice day.

    • Posted by Old Insecurity on

      Should add the fake news of atheism since Nunatsiaq sees fit to approve this drivel.

      • Posted by Epistemological Problems on

        Atheists are just people who are honest enough with themselves that they don’t need to pretend to know things that you almost certainly don’t know either.

  5. Posted by Awesome! on

    There is hope after all, the youth can spot fake news while some adults spew fake news, just like those anti vaxxers who try to spread fake news and fear.
    Right wing nuts and their propaganda. Still some of that crap gets on fb but thankfully most of it gets removed.
    Now if more adults could also learn from this it would be great.

    • Posted by iWonder on

      An interesting thought I came across listening in on a conversation recently. In western culture most educated people have become uniquely attuned to “Right wing nuts and their propaganda” as you put it. And that is a good thing. Yet, rarely do we recognize with as much ease the excesses of the left. It is as is there is no such thing, and even to suggest it is to commit a thought transgression. This seems to be a cultural blind spot for us. I wonder why that is?

      • Posted by Observer on

        Because it doesn’t exist. People who are, as you would probably put it, “Left wing nuts” simply do not have the influence over current politics and the media that their opposites do. They’re marginalized and generally dismissed by most people on the left as cranks. Tell me, when was the last time you heard someone being interviewed who demanded that only same-sex marriages be allowed? Probably never. Yet lots of elected politicians, leaders, and political commentators were interviewed and expressed their views that only male-female marriages were allowed and taken seriously. Have you ever heard someone demanding that everyone must get abortions? No. The opposite, of course, is heard all the time. And so on and so forth.

        • Posted by iWonder on

          Well, there it is. The excesses of the left, or leftist extremism “doesn’t exist”! I couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of, or evidence for, our cultural blind spot. So, thanks for that.

          Before going on I want to make sure this discussion is properly calibrated though. My point here is that as a culture we are far less attuned to the features and manifestations of the pathologies of the left.

          Of course, there are more than enough examples from history that falsify the claim that there is no such thing; Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China, or the many purges of the Bolsheviks and Stalin in the former Soviet Union. To me the real question is what features do these have in common? Is it the removal of (perceived) dissenters from civic life? Is it intellectual homogeneity around sets of specific values? I think it is and I think there are manifestations of this around us today.

          You suggest, bafflingly, that at present our political institutions and media are more heavily influenced by the right. To me this is not believable. In fact, I would suggest the opposite seems to be the case, that our media and our educational institutions (universities especially) and our political structures are clearly much more left leaning. This might be the crux of the problem. As our leading cultural institutions are averse to casting a critical eye on the excesses of those in their camp, we as a society have been less well equipped to see them ourselves.

          • Posted by Joe on

            I don’t belong or follow any party, right, left, middle. I usually vote for the person that I think is best to represent us not the party. I am not stuck to one party as some of you may be.
            Saying that every wing has its propaganda, one is more focused on benefiting a few, the other seems to focus on the people, what I have noticed in the last ten fifteen years is a huge push by the right wing on creating separation and fear with a loot of misinformation in between.
            It worked in the beginning but as you saw in the last couple elections it’s not working anymore, people are not dumb and see through it.
            Same thing happen south of us with the orange man as President, people saw through him.

            I think most of us can see which wing is more extreme then the other, which side that spreads fear and misinformation more than the other. It’s just that we tend to forget from time time and need a reminder.

            • Posted by iWonder on

              Hey Joe, this really isn’t a discussion about the political parties, at all, and I don’t wish it to be. I won’t argue your points about conservative politics of late as I mostly agree.

              Nor is it an attempt to illuminate who is comparatively ‘good’ and who is relatively ‘bad’ on the spectrum. Unfortunately, this is the kind of simplistic reductionism that is part of the problem.

              • Posted by Joe on

                I have to humbly disagree with you, with your previous comments on the left wing this does include the political parties, the views you have towards the left and the false light of comparison to communism from China and Russia is inaccurate at best, left wing government is not communism, socialism is far from communism and this tends to be left out to try and put support to views by the right wing, extreme at its best,
                Like I said before left wing, middle, right wing all have their propaganda, to what level and what focus the propaganda is for the parties again most of us can see how much on party or wing can be. I think it is pretty clear how extreme one can be and it doesn’t have to be complicated to know that.

                • Posted by iWonder on

                  Joe, I will grant you that the ‘left’ is a big tent, and that there are many manifestations of leftist thought along the political spectrum. Being on the left doesn’t mean you are going to identify with all of them. Still, they share certain features such as a commitment to some form of egalitarianism and economic equality, but to varying degrees of emphasis and with very different methods in mind to achieve those. Marxism, for example, is extreme in that it advocates violence and the abolition of class hierarchies. Of course, this is unappealing to western liberals who reject Marxism in the same way conservatives reject fascism as somehow ‘theirs’.

                  The point I wanted to make here, and one I get the sense you are committed to misunderstanding, is that there is a blindness in our culture to what it looks like when the left goes too far. By contrast, we are acutely aware of what the right looks like when it does so. If the best explanation we can come up with is “because it doesn’t exist” then we seem to be suffering from a lack of seriousness and imagination.

  6. Posted by Social Media what? on

    I just noticed that on the poster attached with this story it reads “if it is on social media don’t share it”.

    I think we can notice that there is a lot of garbage shared on social media, but also recognize that practically all “news” is shared on social media, even the most informative and useful information.

    A categorical rejection of social media is really not the right stance here, in fact it makes no practical sense at all. Is this lesson here that legacy media is preferable? I am detecting a bias in this lesson.

  7. Posted by Ken on

    I’m curious which side continuously spew false information about vaccines and endanger the public with misinformation? Continuously being debunked with their misinformation but still aggressively being anti vaccine.
    Anti mask, anti social distancing, the list goes on. So which side would it be?

  8. Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

    Congratulations to Ms Bourassa on starting her students thinking about one of the great questions facing us every day – what is the truth in a given situation? This is not merely a matter of common sense; it’s a learned skill taught from grade school to university. For many of us, the first time we thought about it concerned Santa Claus; and now we’re digging through piles of “facts” to decide whether or not to get vaccinated. It’s an extremely valuable skill.

  9. Posted by Bird on

    It would seem like a lot of adults need to take this class as well. Great job Ms Bourassa!

  10. Posted by Iti pow on

    Wow this teacher sounds amazing, great job Ms.Bourassa 👏

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