Being able to identify the trustworthiness of information is an important concern for everyone. Yet the sheer volume of material online and the speed at which it travels has made this an increasingly challenging task. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook & TikTok provide a loudspeaker to anyone who can attract followers, no matter what their message or content.
Fake news has the power to normalise prejudices, to dictate ‘us versus them’ mentalities and even, in extreme cases, to justify and encourage violence.
We have become obsessed with getting kids off their devices at the expense of developing their understanding of the online world. This is not just about surveillance, but rather about having open conversations that empower your children and teenagers to understand and assess the usefulness of information for themselves.
Handling and teaching kids to recognise fake news is crucial in today’s information-rich world.
Here are some tips:
Start with the basics: Teach your children what news is and how it is created. Explain the difference between news and opinion or entertainment content.
Foster critical thinking: Encourage your children to question the information they encounter. Teach them to analyse news sources, consider the credibility of the author or publisher, and evaluate the evidence presented.
Teach source evaluation: Help your children understand the importance of reliable sources. Teach them to look for reputable news outlets, fact-checking organisations, and trusted journalists. Encourage them to cross-reference information from multiple sources.
Discuss bias and perspective: Explain to your children that news sources may have biases, and it’s essential to consider different perspectives. Encourage them to seek diverse viewpoints and think critically about how biases can influence the presentation of information.
Spotting red flags: Teach your children to identify common red flags of fake news, such as sensational headlines, excessive use of emotional language, lack of credible sources, and spelling or grammatical errors. Help them understand that these signs can indicate questionable information.
Verify information: Teach your children to fact-check information before accepting it as true. Show them reliable fact-checking websites or tools they can use to verify claims, images, or videos. Emphasise the importance of accuracy and evidence-based information.
Encourage media literacy: Help your children develop media literacy skills. Teach them to consider the intentions behind the creation and sharing of information, understand how algorithms influence the content they see, and be aware of the potential for misinformation on social media.
Lead by example: Be a critical consumer of news yourself and demonstrate healthy skepticism. Discuss current events, media literacy, and fake news with your children, showcasing your own evaluation process and encouraging open conversations.
Create a safe environment: Foster an environment where your children feel comfortable asking questions and discussing misinformation they may come across. Remind them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that learning from them is essential.
Promote responsible sharing: Teach your children the importance of responsible sharing. Encourage them to think twice before sharing information and to consider the potential impact of spreading false or misleading content. Emphasise the importance of sharing verified and reliable information.
By equipping your children with critical thinking skills and media literacy, you can empower them to navigate the vast information landscape and make informed judgments about the news they encounter.
Not easy – but important!
Minimising the harm of fake news for kids
Helping young people navigate online spaces requires better skills in verifying what is true and what isn’t.
Here are five questions to start the conversation with children.
Find an online post that you consider to be fake news and talk with the child about it. Shape your conversation around these questions:
- Who made this post?
- Who do they want to view it?
- Who benefits from this post and/or who might be harmed by it?
- Has any information been left out of the post that might be important?
- Is a reliable source (like a mainstream news outlet) reporting the same news? If they’re not, it doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it does mean you should dig deeper.
Clues for children to use
Make detecting fake news like a “spot the difference” game.
Get you kids thinking by asking these questions as they are clues that a source may be dodgy:
- Is the URL or site name unusual? For example, those with a “.co” are often trying to masquerade as real news sites.
- Is the post low-quality, possibly containing bold claims with no sources and lots of spelling or grammatical errors?
- Does the post use sensationalist imagery? Women in sexy clothing are popular clickbait for unreliable content.
- Are you shocked, angry or overjoyed by the post? Fake news often strives to provoke a reaction, and if you’re having an intense emotional response then it could be a clue the report isn’t balanced or accurate.
- How is the story structured and what kind of proof does it offer? If it merely repeats accusations against the people involved in an incident without further reporting, for example, there’s probably a better version of the story out there from a more reliable news source.