Spotting Fake News: Teaching Kids to be Responsible Online Publishers
Editor’s note: This is part II in a series on Fake News. Read part I, here.
Kids today are not equipped to deal with the barrage of digital information coming at them every day. Add to that, the bulk of information that may be fake, misleading, or even malicious. So how do we help kids become more responsible for the content they share online?
We do it one conversation at a time.
When it comes to the mounting influence of fake news, it’s easy to point the finger at the media, special interest groups, politicians, and anyone else with an agenda and internet access. While many of these groups may add to the problem, each one of us plays a role in stopping it.
What’s our role?
We, the connected consumer, now play such a significant role in how content is created and disseminated, that a large part of the solution comes down to individual responsibility — yours and mine.
The shift begins with holding ourselves accountable for every piece of content we read, create, or share online. That shift gains momentum when we equip our kids to do the same.
Teach personal responsibility. Start the conversation around personal responsibility early with your kids and keep it going. Explain that every time we share fake news, a rumor, or poorly sourced material, we become one cog in the wheel of spreading untruths and even malicious fabrications. We become part of the problem. Challenge your child to become a trustworthy, discerning source of information as opposed to being viewed by others as an impulsive, unreliable source.
Discuss the big picture. Fake news or misleading content isn’t just annoying; it’s harmful in a lot of other ways. Misinformation undermines trust, causes division, can spark social unrest, and harm unity. More than that, fake news edges out helpful, factual, content designed to educate and inform.
Be aware of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is gravitating toward ideas, people, and content that echoes our spiritual, social, political, or moral points of view. Confirmation bias tempts us to disregard information that opposes our ideology. While confirmation bias is part of our human nature, left unchecked, it can be an obstacle to learning factual information.
Chill, don’t spill. Fake news is designed to advance a personal agenda. This is especially true during times of social tension when tempers are running high. Don’t take the emotional bait. Exercise discernment. Before sharing, read legitimate news sources that offer balanced coverage, so the story you share or opinion you express is based on accurate information.
Be a free thinker. Our kids have grown up in a world where ‘like’ and ‘share’ counts somehow equate to credibility. Encourage kids to break away from the crowd and have the courage to be free, independent thinkers.
Challenge content by asking:
- Do I understand all the points of view of this story?
- What do I really think about this topic or idea?
- Am I overly emotional and eager to share this?
- Am I being manipulated by this content?
- What if I’m wrong?
Question every source. Studies show that people assume that the higher something ranks in search results, the more factual or trustworthy the information is. Wrong. Algorithms retrieve top content based on keywords, not accuracy. So, dig deeper and verify sources.
5 ways to spot fake news
1. Look closely at the source. Fake news creators are good at what they do. While some content has detectable errors, others are sophisticated and strangely persuasive. So, take a closer look. Test credibility by asking:
- Where is the information coming from?
- Is this piece satire?
- Is the author of the article, bio, and website legitimate?
- Are studies, infographics, and quotes appropriately attributed?
- Is the URL legitimate (cnn.comvs. cnn.com.co)?
- Are there red flags such as unknown author, all capital letters, misspellings, or grammar errors?
2. Be discerning with viral content. Often a story will go viral because it’s so unbelievable. So pause before you share. Google the story’s headline to see if the story appears in other reliable publications.
3. Pay attention to publish dates, context. Some viral news items may not be entirely false, just intentionally shared out of context. Fake news creators often pull headlines or stories from the past and present them as current news to fit the desired narrative.
4. Beware of click-bait headlines. A lot of fake news is carefully designed with user behavior in mind. A juicy headline leads to a false news story packed with even more fake links that take you to a product page or, worse, download malware onto your computer, putting your data and privacy at risk. These kinds of fake news scams capitalize on emotional stories such as the recent tragic death of basketball great Kobe Bryant.
5. Verify information. It takes extra effort, but plenty of sites exist that can help you verify a piece of information. Before sharing that a piece of content, check it out on sites like:
While fake news isn’t a new phenomenon, thanks to technology’s amplification power, it’s reached new levels of influence and deception. This social shift makes it imperative to get in front of this family conversation as soon as possible especially since we’re headed into an election year.
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