Fake and Viral News: Resources for Debate Teachers

The purpose of this post is to provide information literacy resources for speech and debate instructors. For team policy debaters and extempers especially, evaluating sources quickly and effectively is essential. There are many free resources available online, but few suited for forensics clubs.

One reason I’m compiling this resource is that most resources on information literacy focus on social media, lateral reading, and ad recognition. Although these are important, they are essentially irrelevant to debate rounds. These resources focus more on understanding new sources and recognizing fishy evidence from snatches of information available in rounds.

In addition, most debate clubs are run differently from most classrooms, and therefore need resources.

This post is broken down into four sections: background, teaching material, activities and drills, and case studies. “Background” includes research about fake news and information literacy, “teaching material” includes resources put together by others that could be adapted for debaters, “activities and drills” are exactly what they sound like, and “case studies” are various real-life examples.


This article from NPR overviews a Stanford paper on how the average student is at evaluating information. The actual paper is very readable and includes material that could possibly be turned into activities. It’s available here.

If you’re looking at a resolution that’s science-heavy, you may want to address science journalism and the scientific process. See “Let’s Stop Pretending Peer Review Works“, “The problem with science journalism“.

For some more generally useful links, check out the Calling Bullshit website.

Vanessa Otero came up with a great chart showing how different news sources skew liberal or conservative, and which sources have more analytical material. She acknowledges that it’s got some issues, which she discusses in her original post. To the points she brought up I’d add that it’s very US-centric (to my knowledge, The Economist and the BBC are the only non-American news sources) and that it ignores media sources that skew libertarian. (Reason, for instance, which is generally reputable but skews in a direction not included on the x-axis.)

Despite its issues, I still think it’s a fantastic resource. It’s even something newer TP debaters could print out and put in their binders for reference.



Teaching material (lesson plans, videos, etc.):

Although your students are probably very familiar with most of the information in this video, it is a good overview of how to evaluate sources for new debaters:

The video below is more useful for intermediate students:

-This is an excellent list of resources for educators, from a librarian.

-“Gutenberg to Zuckerberg“, a full news literacy course from the Digital Resource Center. -The Digital Resource Center’s ”

-The Digital Resource Center’s “Ripped From The Headlines” page offers more resources for educators.

Activities and Drills:

-An instructor cuts evidence cards from several news sources that are fake, satirical, or strongly biased. A speaker reads one of the fake cards, along with two other pieces of reliable evidence on the same topic. A second speaker stands up and cross-examines the first speaker until they determine which evidence is false. (If I have time, I’ll update this with a collection of cards for you to use.)

-Display a fake article and have students compile a list of “warning signs” (ALL CAPS HEADLINES, clickbait titles, etc.). Optionally, grant students internet access and let them research the publication themselves. Have them discuss what they learned from their research.

-Similar to the above. Choose a handful of websites included on this list and have students create two lists: one of ways they’re unreliable (satire, blatantly false, intentionally anger the reader) and one of warning signs (as mentioned in the above exercise).

Case studies (formatted as drills):

-BBC’s got a fake news quiz that’s of interest. If you wanted to, you could have students take it as a group, with discussion after each question. (link)

This NYT article is an excellent case study on how false news spreads.

-Pull drills and examples from recent controversies. In late November 2016, the Washington Post published this article, which immediately generated a controversy. Have students read that article and see if anything seems fishy, then ask them to do independent research on the topic. (You may want to remind them to focus on credibility and sources, since this is an activity about news and debaters are frequently distracted by policy.) After they read and process the piece, you may choose to have them read a response piece like this one from Rolling Stone. What were the strengths of the Washington Post article? What were its weaknesses? Was there anything that immediately convinced them or made them suspicious? If they read it online, how many of them went to PropOrNot’s website?

Notes: there is some strong language on PropOrNot’s website which is quoted in the Rolling Stone article. (This is a red flag, actually, suggesting that the website is not credible.)  If the link to the Washington Post article is broken or the post is removed, please let me know and I’ll provide a .pdf.

Final notes:

-If you notice broken links, please let me know!

-If you have comments, suggestions, or drills that you think I should add, please get in touch. I’d love to make this as thorough and usable a resource as possible.


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