With a 24-hour news cycle surrounding us it can be a big challenge to get a handle on separating fact from fiction. Developing the ability to decipher what is real from what is fake when it comes to online content is certainly a crucial skill, not only for children but adults too! One area where this is particularly important is when it comes to the news that is circulated online.
The term fake news is one that is relatively recent. It became part of everyday conversation in the run up to and aftermath of the American Presidential Election in 2016. A simple definition of fake news is: Fake news is news that deliberately isn’t factually accurate. It’s a type of pseudo-journalism that spreads premeditated misinformation or hoaxes via traditional print and broadcast news media or social media with mischievous or malicious intent. While an element of fake news has always existed, the internet has made this even more prevalent. Even adults find it a challenge to identify fake news, so imagine what that is like for children and teens. What can you do to help your child to distinguish between real and fake news when they are online?
Not too long ago the researching, writing and publishing of news was left to those working in newspapers. Now anyone with access to a laptop, iPad or smartphone can write and easily publish content that can be read by a huge audience across a range of ages. There are a number of steps that we recommend with regard to educating your child about fake news. Regularly talking to your child about the content they read when they are online. Encourage them to look beyond the headline. A headline is usually written to tempt you to click into the story to read more. The old adage of ‘not believing everything you read’ is apt here. While the headline might say one thing the body of the story may say something completely different. Encourage your child to exercise a degree of scepticism and teach them that if they read something that they think is too good to be true or completely unbelievable then it usually is. When we visit schools all over the country to talk to children and teens about staying safe online, it is obvious that many children and teens do not always understand that the online world is not as simple as it seems. Nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to fake news. Teens may be in a position to exercise a little more cynicism in relation to what they read online. Encourage them to do some detective work on a website they are dubious of. Is it an unusual URL or site name ending in ‘co’ that is trying to look legitimate, but isn’t? Is there contact information on the site? Does the author exist? If the site requires you to register before you can access it, then your alarm bells should be ringing! You can of course do some detective work on behalf of your child too.
One positive outcome of the rise of fake news is that children are being encouraged to be critical thinkers from a young age. Having regular conversations about what is real and fake news with your children is a great first step in helping them to develop a critical element to the way that they see the content they read online.