By Judy Berman
An endangered tree octopus? A subway in Central Florida? A bogus French model shows up for a date? Just how gullible are we?
One researcher says too many believe what they see, just because it’s on the Internet.
Florida is flat as a pancake. Mountains are nonexistent and hills are merely speed bumps, hardly worth mentioning.
So, imagine my surprise when I found Merritt Island – about 15 minutes from where I live – has a subway system. I mean we don’t even have cellars because the state’s built over a swamp.
But there it was photos and all. Impressive figures from history linked to various stages of the subway system: Dr. Wernher von Braun, President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton.
It had to be true. I saw it on the Internet. Only it wasn’t real.
That’s one of the stumbling blocks about teaching research to seventh-graders. They see a site that says a current celebrity died – the NEXT day – and they think it is true. I mean. It must be. Or, the Internet wouldn’t post it.
During reports on innovators – creators of new products and ideas – students shared 15 interesting things they learned.
In a report on Steve Jobs, one student told the class that he was fired from Apple because he was gay.
I was flabbergasted and asked where she found that information, because he was fired over a power struggle in the company he formed. She showed me the sites she researched.
One said: When Steve Jobs was younger, he dated “JOHN BAEZ.”
“Uh, I think that’s supposed to be JOAN BAEZ, the folk singer.” Sure enough. (We checked several other sites that verified this.) But my student was too young to know the cultural reference to Joan Baez, so she was unaware of the disinformation – intentional or accidental – provided on that one site.
It became a teachable moment. My class had an impromptu chat about trusting the reliability of some sources on the web … and double-checking facts.
A researcher at the University of Connecticut, Donald Leu, is concerned that the Facebook generation of kids cannot distinguish between fact and fiction online.
“Most students simply have very little in the way of critical evaluation skills,” Leu is quoted saying in an article in the “Daily Mail Online.”
To put his theory to the test, he showed students a fabricated site about an “endangered Pacific Northwest tree octopus” to test their ability to evaluate information they see online.
Sad to say, as improbable as the story was, the students bought it. Even when researchers showed the kids that the information was made up, some still insisted on the tree octopus’ existence.
Science teachers at our school use this site to develop their students’ online reading and critical evaluation skills. Leu said these skills are needed to meet college and workforce demands.
At least the students are one-up on the beautiful, gullible blonde in the State Farm ad who was about to go on a date with a French model she met on the Internet. The “model,” Eric Filipkowski, (obviously a fraud), gives a sly smile, says “Bonjour” without a trace of a French accent, and then walks off with the girl.
A clever ad. It is a cautionary tale for students AND adults to carefully examine any information that’s in print, on TV and the Internet. Otherwise, you could be the fall guy in a scam to relieve you of your money.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
Main Photo – tree octopus – hoax http://recollectionbooks.com/Cascadia/tree.html
Photo – gullible – State Farm ad and an article. TV Commercial Star says ‘Bonjour’ to Fame, Columbia News Service: http://columbianewsservice.com/2013/02/tv-commercial-star-says-bonjour-to-fame/
Florida Subway System Route Map http://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/index.php/topic/29265-florida-subway-system/
Merritt Island Subway Authority – photo and article http://www.misubwayauth.org/html/history.html
Florida Today’s Chris Kridler, a former colleague, wrote about the subway spoof: http://www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060509/COLUMNISTS0106/605090306/1047/LIFE&nclick_check=1
Endangered Tree Octopus (hoax) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1352929/Endangered-tree-octopus-proves-students-believe-read-Internet.html