Students struggle to understand blatant bias in news, according to a new Stanford study

Mark ZuckerbergJustin Sullivan/Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Students have a tough time distinguishing between ads and news, and understanding conflicts of interest in information that is presented as fact, according to a new Stanford study reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The study comes at a time when Facebook and Google are being loudly criticised for helping spread fake news during a contentious presidential election. A recent study by BuzzFeed showed that in the lead-up to the election, the top fake-news stories on Facebook outperformed legitimate news stories shared by some of the most popular media companies.

But some hoped that the social-media savvy of younger generations might help them better separate truth from falsehood online. This study suggests that’s simply not the case, at least at a young age.

According to the study, 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t tell the difference between a news article and an ad labelled “sponsored content.” Similarly, “more than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help,” the Journal reports.

In middle school, it seems, the fact that the source of a piece of information could lead to bias isn’t understood.

The study included 7,804 students from middle school through university.

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