‘Fake News’, Misinformation & disinformation
While the digital world offers a range of information and opportunities for young people, it is also becoming harder to separate fact from fiction. As children are spending more time online constantly making decisions on what to trust, it’s now more important than ever for them to know how influence, persuasion and manipulation can impact their decisions, opinions and what they share online.
How do fake news and misinformation impact children and young people?
Exposure to misinformation can reduce trust in the media more broadly, making it tougher to know what is fact or fiction. When we start to believe that there is the possibility that anything can be fake, it’s easier to discount what is actually true. This presents a real concern about the impact of fake news on our children and young people.
According to research more than half of 12-15 year-olds go to social media as their regular source of news. And while only a third believe that social media stories are truthful, it is estimated that only 2% of school children have the basic critical literacy skills to tell the difference between real and fake news.
Children openly admit to being worried about ‘fake news’. Teachers are noting a real increase in issues of anxiety, self-esteem, and a general skewing of world views. Generally, the trust children have in the news, social media and politicians is weakening.
In order to help both children and Parents/Grandparents improve both their understanding of ‘Fake News’, Misinformation and Disinformation and their digital literacy skills, we are suggesting a shared learning experience, facilitated through quiz-based learning (gamification). The aim is that, through the quiz game, parents and children can learn at the same time in an enjoyable and relaxed manner.
The Bite-size Learning Topics:
There are three Bite-sized Learning (BSL) activities, each of which is presented as a Quiz designed to be undertaken by a child and their parent/grandparent together and in competition to see who gets the most answers right. (The correct answer is always presented to the players for confirmation or information.) After each question, there is the opportunity to discuss the answer supported by prompting comments and topics.
Each Activity is supported by a ‘Learn More’ Fact Sheet with top tips to empower children to make smarter informed choices as they navigate online information.
There is also a Guide for Parents on “What to do if your child has been negatively impacted by ‘Fake News’.
Each BSL deals with different but related topics to do with ‘Fake News’, Misinformation and Disinformation. The Quizzes are primarily designed for the 11-13 age group with their parents/grandparents, but are suitable for all ages depending on reading ability and use of digital media.
How good is your child at deciding what’s true and what isn’t? We take a look at how to help them develop digital literacy and identify "fake news" in our connected world.
Early in 2019, a flurry of scare stories broke out about the ‘Momo Challenge’, where a freaky character would hack into WhatsApp and start setting children dangerous challenges, leading up to self-harm and even suicide. National and global news sources reported on the story, and warnings about the challenge – which was apparently responsible for the death of 130 Russian children – went viral. But a few days later, it transpired that the Momo Challenge was a hoax – or fake news, as we are more likely to call it.
In today’s world, children are becoming increasingly ‘digitally literate’, developing the ability to live, work, learn, participate and thrive in a digital society.
A key part of this is being able to identify fake news.
As technology evolves, so do the requirements for understanding the new ways in which we receive and share information. Children growing up with instant access to an unmanageable amount of content have to know when and what to believe. They have to question everything.
Research from the National Literacy Trust suggests that half of UK parents are worried about the impact of misinformation on their children’s lives and don’t think their children have the skills to spot fake news; what’s more, 40% of parents surveyed admitted to falling for fake news themselves.
Why digital literacy matters
Many adults assume that children’s ability to handle mobile devices means they are digitally literate, but this is simply not the case.
It’s also about the need to evaluate and filter the information they find online, whether that’s on websites, in the news or on social media.
This is an important skill to have as they journey through education and study increasingly independently, ensuring that their research and schoolwork are as accurate as possible.
But it’s not just in the classroom that children need digital literacy
Out of school, being able to critically evaluate information they find online or in print, or hear by word of mouth, can have an impact on their wellbeing and ensure they won’t be disturbed by scare stories (such as the Momo Challenge), or led astray by things they see on social media. Nor will they inadvertently spread false information themselves.
Ideally, the building blocks for digital literacy need to be laid as early as 5 years of age.
If it’s done well, children grow up being able to evaluate what they find.
Why developing digital literacy can be tricky
Children have to cope with a deluge of information that’s available at their fingertips. But huge amounts of this is poor quality or not easily understood by them.
Part of the problem is that from the very earliest stages of life, kids are taught to believe what adults say.
As they move up through school, they’re often told to research something without ever being taught where to look and how to do it.
In the teenage years, social media begins to have an impact, too, and with friends often a far bigger influence than authority figures, it’s easy to see how misinformation can spread and go viral.
The different forms of misleading information
Some of the sources of misinformation that your child might encounter include:
- Hoaxes such as the Momo Challenge and the oft-reported stories of celebrity deaths where the person concerned is alive and kicking.
- User-generated ‘factual’ content like Wikipedia – often top of internet searches, and therefore the go-to source for many children.
- News outlets that have a political bias.
- Blogs and vlogs, such as on YouTube, where a person’s opinions are presented as fact.
- Outdated information, for example news stories dating back several years.
- Social media, where people often share stories without checking if they’re true.
As adults, it can be difficult to spot fake news, so how can we equip our kids with the skills they need to identify it?
- Assess the language and structure of websites
Websites that are user-friendly and written in plain English are more likely to be accurate and reliable than those that obscure information with jargon, waffle or hard-to-read fonts and formatting
- Look at the advertising
Explain to your child how advertising affects the content of a source. Teach them to look out for terms that mean the content may have been influenced by an advertiser, such as ‘advertorial’, ‘sponsored’ or ‘promoted.’
- Encourage them to use alternative sources
It is important that children are exposed to and experience different types of information, in digital formats and more traditional formats. Schools, libraries and books can help with this.
News sources that are specifically aimed at children are often good places to look for reliable information presented in simple terms, such as educational newspapers like First News and The Week Junior.
In the UK, the NewsWise project, launched by The Guardian Foundation, the National Literacy Trust and the PSHE Association and funded by Google, aims to equip children with the skills and knowledge they need to engage with, question and enjoy news. Free NewsWise resources include the NewsWise Navigator which helps parents and children question news they are unsure about.
- Teach them to cross-reference
If a story or fact is reported consistently across various websites, publications or books, it’s more likely that it’s accurate. Older children can be taught to compare multiple sources to see whether the information tallies across them all.
- Encourage factual accuracy in their work
In primary schools, there is often an overemphasis on presentation, with rewards given for general work rather than content.
If you’re helping with homework, encourage your child to pay attention to the quality of the information they’re sharing, and not just the pictures and PowerPoint gimmicks.
- Learn through play
Interland is an interactive desktop game designed for kids aged eight to twelve. Many students often receive online independence or responsibility at this age. ... For example, in Reality River, students learn how to identify online phishers. And in Kind Kingdom, students manage cyberbullies and spread positivity.
- Look at dates
It’s not unusual for news stories from years back to resurface and start trending, so teach your child to look at the date of publication. The same applies to factual content such as health advice and anything containing statistics: check to see when it was last reviewed, as it may have been replaced by more recent information.
- Investigate the author
Encourage your child to do a little bit of research to see whether the author of a piece of information seems trustworthy. A professional in their field is likely to be more reliable than their favourite YouTuber!
- Use respected sources
Information on Wikipedia, YouTube and Instagram – many children’s first choice of websites – is often misleading.
- Learn to spot clickbait
We’re all prone to being enticed by a sensational headline, but many outlets use these ‘clickbait’ headlines to draw people into non-stories. Explain to your child that it’s important not to take a headline or social media splash at face value, and to read the whole story before deciding whether it’s real, fake or exaggerated.
- Talk about it
Arguably the best way to help your child become digitally literate is to talk about what they’re doing and seeing online. Discuss subject matter, look up answers to their questions together, ask them to explain something to you to check their understanding, and help them evaluate the reliability of what they read.
Teachers or librarians can also be involved in discussions with children about what’s real and reliable, and what’s not.
- Share carefully
Fake news gains traction when it starts to be widely disseminated, often on social media. Teach your child to read stories or posts thoroughly and weigh up how reliable they are before they hit ‘share,’ and remind them that just because their friend or favourite vlogger has shared something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
- Too crazy to be true?
Finally, teach your child to trust their instincts. Does something sound utterly ridiculous? It might be a joke or satire dressed up as reliable information. Does it sound too good to be true? It probably is!