Founder of Sentient Digital
The internet has changed the way that we consume news. Gone are the days where we could read an interesting article and move on. Now, we can forward the story to hundreds on WhatsApp, make a YouTube commentary on it, or even Tweet our own version of the story and our feelings.
But with this surge in access to news comes great waves of misinformation: fake news on a gargantuan scale, often traveling faster and further than the truth. Now, it’s got to the point where being able to tell real and what’s fake on the internet takes up some real energy – so how do we help ourselves, and in turn, our kids to spot fake news online?
What caused the rise of fake news?
The challenge of misinformation is not new, but it has been a growing cause for concern, exacerbated by the rise of technology.
While 68% of Americans say they get their news from news websites or apps, 53% affirm that they typically get it from social media – a source which has typically not been subject to the same content rules as TV, radio, print and other traditional media.
On social media, news and information can often stray from fact towards opinion, and the two become viewed as one. And in a world where we are looking to protect free speech, censorship of unfounded opinions can be a challenge.
Why spread fake news?
Fake news can be spread as a form of misinformation or disinformation (false information deliberately spread to make people believe something different). There are many reasons an individual or company might want to spread fake news, including:
- Getting more website traffic (clicks on the article or to their site)
- The promotion of propaganda that benefits their organization, their beliefs, or even their country and its politics
- Trying to influence voters or people’s beliefs to change public opinion
- Trying to win over new voters or followers
- Wanting to spark debate, or even argument, causing division between members of the public.
The fast-paced nature of news in the online world also means that journalists could potentially publish incorrect information without being able to verify or check as scrupulously as they normally would.
Fake news is not always created by journalists or organizations. As a way of causing conflict on social media, online trolls often “bait” users with fake news, hoping to spark anger, argument, and outrage. Trolls revel in causing tension and upset, which makes fake news a tempting tool for them to use.
So with all this to contend with, how do you separate the fact from the fiction?
How to spot fake news: Tips for parents
1. Make sure your child is aware that fake news exists.
It sounds so basic, but many children might not even realize that what they read might not be true. Children tend to be more trusting and naive than adults, so step one is letting them know that there are people who lie online.
2. Teach your child to ask challenging questions.
Encourage your children not to accept content at face value. Teach them to understand why, how and what has been shared with them, and to be critical observers of the content they consume. Encourage questions such as:
- How did you find the content?
- How was it shared with you?
- Do you trust who shared it?
- Who created or wrote the content?
- Who might benefit or be harmed by it?
- Why did they make it?
- Is someone getting paid for this content?
- What is the news not saying?
- Is part of the story being omitted?
- Do you trust what you are reading to be true?
3. Find a way to check the source of the information.
If there isn’t a reliable source, can it be trusted?
4. Look up the URL or site name.
- Do you recognize the site name?
- Is the content published on the site high quality?
- Are there spelling or grammatical mistakes?
- Is the language they use sensationalist?
- Can you find the same story on other, more trusted sources, like your national public news site?
- Is the site overloaded with advertising?
- Does the site heavily feature clickbait articles?
5. Block apps and websites that are generators of fake news.
Parental control tools like Qustodio can help you set up blocks across devices.
6. Make sure your child checks multiple sources.
See what other news sources have to say about the same topic. Be sure to include news sources from other countries or political points of view.
7. Help your child create the lifelong habit of “think before you share”.
We are not just consumers, but also contributors to the content environment. If you have any doubt that the content may be false, misleading or harmful in any way, don’t share it.
If you feel your child is ready for social media, and to begin sharing content, make sure to set up clear outlines and expectations first. Encourage your friends and family to think critically about the content that they share – and feel free to hold others accountable for sharing misleading content.
8. Trust your instinct.
If something feels “off”, it probably is.
9. Learn more about fake news, together.
- Watch documentaries such as The Social Dilemma. Use it as an opportunity to discuss as a family the influence of technology and the spread of content has on our decision making and society.
- Explore the extensive resources on fake news from both Common Sense Media and the BBC.
- Consider using a news app like Ground News, which will highlight the bias in the content you are reading and present an alternative with a different perspective.