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Student Awareness of Ads vs. News Called 'Bleak'

Young people can't tell the difference between real news and advertising, according to a study by Stanford University.

"Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak," researchers wrote.

The study was conducted by Stanford's History Education Group and published under the title, "Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning."

Researchers asked students to identify what was news, sponsored content, or native advertising.

News is published by an organization, agency or business that specializes in objectively reporting current and latest events in a balanced and informed manner. (Fake news is made up and distributed to fool readers and viewers.)

Sponsored content is advertising that is specifically paid for by a client or other entity that seeks to be promoted among news readers and viewers.

Native advertising is a recent inroad into promoting a product or service in a less direct fashion.

"Native advertising doesn’t disrupt the user experience and offers helpful information in a format similar to the other content on the site so users engage with it more than they would with, say, a banner ad. (This is good for advertisers, and if the content is truly useful, good for consumers.)," writes Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute ,

"Our 'digital natives' may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend," the Stanford study said. "But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped."

Duped as in fooled, misled or tricked.

Stanford analyzed nearly 8,000 responses of students from 12 states between January 2015 and June 2016. Students were polled from "under-resourced, inner-city schools in Los Angeles and well-resourced schools in suburbs outside of Minneapolis."

College students were polled, too, using open web searches as examples. They were studied online at six universities ranging from Stanford, which has a 4.8 percent acceptance rate (meaning 94 percent of applicants are rejected), to larger state schools that admit most who apply.

So the study polled college students from all levels of educational aptitude.

Students looked at a traditional advertisement, a news story, and a native advertisement.

While they were able to identify traditional news stories and traditional advertisements, for more than three-quarters of them, "native advertising proved vexing for the vast majority of students."

Vexing as in confusing, irritating or annoying.

More than 80 percent of students said the native advertisements -- labeled “sponsored content” -- was a real news story. Some students even called it "sponsored content," but still thought it a news article.

"This suggests that many students have no idea what 'sponsored content' means and that this is something that must be explicitly taught as early as elementary school," the study concluded.

Do you know the difference between news and advertising? Please share your discussion in the Comments and post on our Facebook page, thanks!