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“Save the Pacific Northwest tree octopus”: a hoax revisited. Or: How vulnerable are school children to fake news?

Eugène Loos (Utrecht University School of Governance, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Loredana Ivan (National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania)
Donald Leu (Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Article publication date: 30 October 2018

Issue publication date: 13 November 2018




This paper aims to propose a new literacies approach to get insight into young people’s capability to detect fake news.


This study is a replication of a US empirical study in The Netherlands to examine whether schoolchildren were able to identify the spoof website “Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus” as fake.


In The Netherlands, only 2 out of 27 school children (7 per cent) recognized the website as being a hoax; results that are worse, even, than those of the 2007 US study, where the website was recognized as being unreliable by slightly more than 6 out of 53 school children (11 per cent).

Research limitations/implications

A similar but large-scale quantitative empirical study should be conducted in several countries to see if the trends in the US and The Netherlands are indeed significant.

Practical implications

It is important to start teaching children at an early age how to critically evaluate online information.

Social implications

The perceived reliability of digital information is a hot issue, given the frequency with which fake news is circulated. Being able to critically evaluate digital information will help to have access to trustworthy information.


Instead of using technological fact checking by Google, Facebook and Twitter, this paper suggests the adoption of a new literacies approach, focusing on young people’s capability to detect fake news.



Loos, E., Ivan, L. and Leu, D. (2018), "“Save the Pacific Northwest tree octopus”: a hoax revisited. Or: How vulnerable are school children to fake news?", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 119 No. 9/10, pp. 514-528.



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