The Daily Mail reports one of the most obvious stories imaginable: that kids will believe anything they see.
Donald Leu, a researcher from the New Literacies Research Lab the University of Connecticut, told a group of American students (age not given) to read about the "endangered Pacific Northwest tree octopus" online.
They were directed to this site:
The kids bought it. Leu says that even when they were told the site was fake, the students refused to believe they had been had.
"Most students simply have very little in the way of critical evaluation skills," said Dr.Leu. "They may tell you they don’t believe everything they read on the Internet, but they do. It's a cause for serious concern.
"Anyone can publish anything on the Internet, and today’s students are not prepared to critically evaluate the information they find there."
This study bothers me for a couple of reasons.
First of all, as far as I can tell the kids were told to go to the site by someone in authority. That means they were lead on under a sort of institutional credibility. Why shouldn't they believe what they are told at school? Skeptical students are often treated like behaviour problems. Just ask my genius big brother.
Second, why should they think a tree octopus is preposterous? Maybe they had seen one before, in the speculative documentary The Future is Wild.
This show has real scientists talking about conceivable future creatures, as they are rendered in fairly realistic CG. My son loves it.
And believing everything you see on the internet is hardly a generational thing. Has Leu never visited Snopes Urban legends Reference Pages? Cryptozoology sites? Free Republic? Answers in Genesis?
Yes, children need to be taught to be more skeptical and critical of media. But so does everyone else, of any age.
Besides which, this message has already been delivered in a far better way. With House Hippos.