The Fake News project

Nowadays fake news are spreading like wildfire with information being shared faster than ever with the growing popularity of social media networks and websites such as YouTube or Facebook. People motivated by their desire to share their particular opinions or humour convey disinformation for their own profits or agendas, hence preying on naive and untaught minds.

Unfortunately, the expertise, realism and finesse by which some of these hoaxes are being perpetrated make certain lies hardly distinguishable from the truth.

On October 30th, 1938 a very famous hoax was created by an American radio station. “The War of the Worlds”, written by H.G. Wells (1898) was adapted as a radio play by actor and filmmaker Orson Welles. The broadcast was the source of a wave of panic as listeners were convinced that Martians were invading the world for real, as they believed the broadcast to be an authentic source of information.

The Terminale L/LVA class, guided by our teacher Mrs Jenny Le Roy, used this hoax as the inspiration for our project: the realisation of a fake news hoax and study of its effects on students and staff of LLB School.

The project was initiated for two main reasons. Firstly, we wanted to understand how fast an unverified rumour can be disseminated, how many persons believed it and if it had been spread outside of the school itself.  Secondly and most importantly, we wanted to sensitize people about fake news, as well as the psychological mechanisms behind them, and help people avoid being fooled and manipulated. The success of the entire plan was based only on the secrecy and silence around the project.

The project was divided in three steps:

Step 1: Teasers – several posters announcing an upcoming event were displayed all around the school.

Step 2: Fake News – other posters with fake news were placed all around the school, namely (i) Wednesday afternoon activities, (ii) the uniforms (iii) a swimming pool construction

Step 3: Revealing the Truth – the truth had to be revealed and, most of all, explained.

The first week, people examined the teaser posters but did not talk much about them. The real reactions started when the posters concerning the Wednesday afternoon activities, the uniforms and the swimming pool appeared. Surprisingly, the uniforms posters received the most feedback. In spite of several clues we had included in the posters such as grammatical mistakes or very unrealistic uniforms taken from virtual reality/gamers world, very few in fact questioned the veracity of anything.

The whole school, including the teachers, the students and the administration were surprised at first, and then rapidly felt outraged. Some organised petitions, some destroyed displayed posters, others wrote letters without checking the sources beforehand. Some parents even threatened to remove their children from the LLB, and former students wrote from countries abroad such as Canada or France to ask what was happening to their beloved school.

At a point, the administration awarded our fake posters with the school stamp and it was then that we realized our goal had been reached beyond our expectations. Even though we were very proud of our initiatives, the extent of the turmoil caused initiated quite an amount of stress with the eventuality of possible disastrous consequences.

Here are the results of our study:

Results

The survey was realised on the basis of 10 classes, that is to say 216 students; approximately 72 teachers, 16 members of the administration, and the APE members/parents in general.

To the question: Have you heard about….? Here are the answers:

Reform posters:   

17 students out of 216 discussed the topic

12 teachers out of 72 discussed the topic

04 administration members out of 16 discussed the topic

No parents.

Uniforms posters:       

216 students out of 216 discussed the topic

49 teachers out 72 discussed the topic

16 admin members out of 16 discussed the topic

Numerous calls, emails, Facebook comments from the parents

At least 6 calls from former students abroad

Swimming pool posters:     

216 students out of 216 discussed the topic

49 teachers out 72 discussed the topic

14 admin members out of 16 discussed the topic

To the question: did you discuss the posters with people outside the school?

Answers:       

198 students out of 216 did spread the news

No record for teachers and admin members.

Given the numerous posts on social networks and calls from the parents, we can easily deduce that the news went out of the school very rapidly (in a matter of hours in fact) and went very far.

At no time did we want to judge who believed or not the false information: we were interested only in the way and the speed with which the news would spread.

We are thankful to Mrs Boukheroufa for the wellbeing of our project and for giving us the opportunity to achieve it.

We are grateful to all the persons involved who kept our secret tight (quite a few…), in spite of all the related pressure as well as the Vie Scolaire and Veronique for supporting the backlash of our experiment.

And to all the parents, don’t worry!  You won’t have to buy any uniform before long.

We hope that all of you will understand that the emotions, feelings, opinions, reactions – felt, shared, discussed, and demonstrated are the sound reasons we did it.

Once again, thank you all for taking part in our project!!

Estelle GRARE-BERTHAULT (T°L), Celia D’ARIFAT (T° L), Alexia SAUVAGE (T° L), Jonah PEERALLY (T° L), Adriana HARDY (T° L).

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