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California Legislature

Fake News 101? Lawmakers want California schools to teach students how to evaluate what they read on the web

Politicians and members of the media are increasingly bemoaning the rise of "fake news," though rarely is there agreement on how to define it. But can this new phenomenon be legislated away?

Two separate bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday aim to do just that by offering proposals that would help teach Californians to think more critically about the news they read online.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) has introduced a measure that would require the state to develop curriculum standards that incorporate "civic online reasoning" to teach students how to evaluate news they read on the Internet.

"Recently, we have seen the corrupting effects of a deliberate propaganda campaign driven by fake news," Gomez said in a statement. "When fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what's real. These attempts to mislead readers pose a direct threat to our democracy."

Gomez said his bill, AB 155, would prepare California students to differentiate "between news intended to inform and fake news intended to mislead."

In a similar measure, SB 135 by state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the state education board would be tasked with creating a framework for a "media literacy" curriculum.

“The rise of fake and misleading news is deeply concerning. Even more concerning is the lack of education provided to ensure people can distinguish what is fact and what’s not,” Dodd said in a statement.

The fake news phenomenon burst into public consciousness at the close of the 2016 election, when analysts found that factually inaccurate news stories found surprisingly large audiences online.

But defining "fake news" has increasingly become a thorny exercise, as partisans have used the phrase to disparage news stories they dislike.

Both President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump have referenced the fake news phenomenon. Obama, in remarks after the election, forcefully lamented the "age of misinformation [that is] packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television."

On Wednesday, Trump dismissed news coverage of a report detailing unverified allegations of his supposed ties to Russia as "fake news," and singled out the outlets BuzzFeed and CNN as purveyors of false information.

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