Deakin Interviews Author of "Fake News and Dinosaurs"
Dear Deakin Readers,
I recently had an opportunity to interview Dr Jason M. Harley (pictured in this editorial) about his new book, Fake News and Dinosaurs, and I am pleased to publish it below.
1. What compelled you to write a picture book about fake news? Is your book the first of its kind for young readers?
JH: The main motivation behind Fake News and Dinosaurs was the lack of resources about media literacy aimed at young people. Advertising, sure, but not evaluating information and news. This was particularly striking for me given how young people are now when they begin to interact with the Internet and associated devices. I found myself wondering what resources I could provide to some of my pre-service teachers (i.e., future elementary and high school teachers) in a course I taught at the U of A that covered media literacy. When I couldn’t find anything that would speak to young readers about fake news and media literacy—even with help from the Head Librarian of the Faculty of Education, Katherine Koch, back in the summer of 2017, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. By which I mean, I also roped my partner and professional illustrator, Daniel Beaudin, in to helping.
2. One of the key messages in the book is “just because all your friends agree with you doesn’t mean that you’re right” (44). Do you think young readers are learning enough about ideological echo chambers from their teachers or parents? Are you hopeful that more will be done to educate young people about the importance of fact-checking?
JH: The lack of books available for young people suggest that we need to do more. Providing resources is an important starting point. As it stands, many adults are also struggling with concepts such as echo chambers and biases. We hope our book appeals to both audiences so that teachers and parents can also identify teachable moments to bring these concepts up outside of planned lessons and talks. Media literacy and associated skills are practical ones and important to practice in order to cultivate. By helping teachers, parents, and peers become more familiar with good practices, such as fact-checking, skills can more easily become habit. And good media literacy habits are the best inoculation against fake news.
3. The character named Gill is described as “a gossipy neighbor and farmer” (11) who is shown to spread misinformation, and readers clearly see how distorted information can spread very quickly. Gill’s behaviour certainly gives one the impression that gossip has considerable potential to be harmful to others. Is there such a thing as “good gossip”? If so, what would you like your readers to understand about it?
JH: Gossip is typically characterized as being a less-than-reliable source of information. If there is a good side to gossip, it is the social component: an enjoyment of sharing information with other people. Communication with others is, in a broad sense, a generally healthy tendency—just like eating. But like eating, how “healthy” communicating might be (for oneself and others) often depends on what is being shared, under what conditions, and to whom. Media literacy provides a toolset to help foster a healthier exchange of information. In Fake News and Dinosaurs, Gill reminded us that false information isn’t always spread by malicious people, nor is it always spread through the web.
4. At what age do you think children are capable of becoming fact checkers? What can adults do to help the young people in their lives become better at fact checking?
JH: Checking facts can start with something as simple as looking for the name of an author or remembering where something came from. These lower-hanging fruits are strategies young people can start practicing relatively quickly. As they mature, so can the strategies they use. For example, rather than just looking to see if an author’s name is present, they might also reflect on what the author’s affiliations and credentials are and the role that these might play in helping them discern the credibility of a particular story.
5. Do you think young readers have heard or read that we are living in a “post-truth age”? How does your book handle this topic, if at all?
JH: One of the decisions Daniel and I made in creating Fake News and Dinosaurs was to use what is called a “secondary world”. In our book, this meant a world populated by dinosaurs rather than humans. Following the adventures of two young Troodons rather than humans was both more fun (we love dinosaurs) but also stands to help readers focus on the story and lessons it imparts without getting weighed down with associations with contemporary issues. We hope this helps make the book accessible and friendly to as wide an audience as possible—and help avoid it falling into an echo chamber.
6. How do you think your book will help young readers to be less vulnerable to the lure of fake stories?
JH: Research has shown that narrative (story) is a powerful way to teach. We hope that learning about media literacy with concrete but fun examples embedded in a dino mystery story will help young (and old!) readers remember, recognize, and appropriately respond to fake news.
7. Do you have any other book projects in mind for the future?
JH: We are currently working on a French translation of Fake News and Dinosaurs.
8. Do you encourage readers to get in touch with you?
JH: We are always happy to hear what readers think of our book through social media @JasonHarley07 and @DanielBeaudin3. Neither of us, however, are full-time writers/creators and both of us have demanding careers, so we are not typically able to respond to specific questions via social media (or otherwise), unfortunately. We do attend some writing conventions such as CanCon, however, and would be delighted to chat there (or at academic conferences)!
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