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Truth and social media


Students will look at infamous social media mistakes, inaccuracies and hoaxes in order to better identify which posts are correct or inaccurate. Students will become familiar with social media conventions that often hint at how authentic a post really is. Finally, students will develop their own step-by-step guide for assessing the accuracy of a social media post.


  • Students will identify common indicators of inauthentic social media posts.
  • Students will understand common practices for reliable social media feeds (such as news sites).
  • Students will create a personal guide for assessing social media accuracy.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


50 minutes


Class set: 7 ways we could tell that AP tweet was a fake

Slideshow: Fake AP tweet 

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 10 minutes

Explain to students that they will be exploring social media today and paying special attention to how to tell what’s real and fake in social media “news.” To start, have students create a K-W-L chart about social media. They should fill in the first two columns, describing what they know and what they would like to know. After the lesson, students will fill in the last column.

Social Media K-W-L Chart

Know | Want to Know | Learned

Ask students to share their chart with a student next to them. Then, as a class, make a list on the board of all the things students already know about social media, including how it works, who uses it, any specific guidelines, what sorts of things get posted, etc. Explain that today we’re going to look specifically at how news gets spread on social media and how to identify truthful posts from false posts.

2. Social media basics — 10 minutes

To start, let’s talk about some basics of social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter. First, social media means that essentially anyone with access to the Internet can create and spread their messages. We know that some mediums, like Twitter, put restrictions on how many characters can be in a single message. Other mediums, like Facebook, allow embedded links, images, and video. Social media is a great tool for spreading information, but just like truthful, helpful information spreads, so, too, does false information. Often, false information can even spread faster and farther than true information because there might be something unique or sensational about it. When it comes to using social media to learn about what’s going on with our friends, community, or the world, we have to know what and whom to trust.

But first, we have to learn a little bit more about how these social media work. Because I know many of you are familiar with Facebook and use it on a regular basis, let’s start with Twitter, which isn’t as popular with high-school-aged students.

Write these Twitter terms on the board, and ask students if they know the definitions (provided for your reference).

hashtag: the # symbol, which is used to mark keywords or topics in the Tweet.

FF: this stands for “follow Friday,” the hashtag Twitter users use to encourage others to follow certain people, most often on a Friday.

RT: this stands for “retweet,” which means someone is reposting someone else’s original message.

MT: this stands for “modified tweet,” which means someone is reposting another person’s message and have modified it or altered it in some way, usually to shorten it.

Trends: a subject determined to be among the most popular on Twitter, determined by a formula.

RLRT: “real life retweet,” or a Tweet of what someone just overheard in real life.

So, why is it important to understand the inner workings of social media in this way? Because the more we know about how different social media work, the more adept we will become at identifying inaccurate and misleading information. For example, if we know what RT means, we know that there is a different person who was the original source of that information, and perhaps by following the trail, we can determine who first posted something. Then, we can evaluate whether that person is really a good source for that information.

3. Example — 15 minutes

Using the slideshow provided, click through the example of the fake AP News tweet that was published in April of 2013. Ask students what they think about the tweet and whether they might have believed it to be true. Ask them to defend their position and reasoning. Was there anything that might tip off the average reader to the fact that this was fake?

Then, pass out class copies of the article “7 ways we know the AP tweet was fake.” Ask students to read silently about how some readers discerned the tweet was fake. When students are finished reading, ask the class for other ideas about how they can tell if a message on social media might be fake or inaccurate. Hopefully, they’ll suggest things like:

  • spelling errors, no source, sounds implausible, no one else had that information, etc.

Going back to the slideshow, look at the charts that show just how the fake tweet affected the financial markets. Explain that while the markets recovered, the posting of this fake information caused global chaos and fear, which negatively affected the financial position of U.S. markets. Some people, believing that the U.S. was under attack again, might have immediately sold stocks or traded investments, only to find out that nothing ever happened. This is just one example of how social media can have a huge impact on the world around us.

4. In-class journal — 15 minutes

For the last 15 minutes, students will brainstorm in their journals in response to this prompt:

Devise a 3-step social media accuracy strategy that would be easy for anyone to follow if they want to check the accuracy of a post on Facebook or Twitter. What steps should they take? How can they verify what they are reading? Explain your strategy and why you think others could follow it.