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Nov 1, 2020

How to teach your kids to identify “Fake News”

Georgie Powell

Georgie Powell

Digital wellbeing expert

Expert tips for parents to teach children and teens media literacy – the right way to consume news.

Today, news is everywhere – from traditional sources like the New York Times, CNN and the BBC to newer feeds like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp.  But with the surge in access to news has come a surge in misinformation: fake news, which often travels faster and further than the truth.  

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”  


– Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of The World Health Organisation, February 25th 2020, a month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

While the challenge of misinformation is not new, it has been a growing cause for concern, exacerbated by the rise of technology. In recent years organisations like The Center for Humane Technology, have cast a spotlight on the influence misinformation is having on our politics and society. But with lives now more directly at stake with Covid-19, misinformation about the pandemic has brought the topic of fake news into the spotlight. 

Today, in the U.K, 45% of people get their news from social media. This is even higher for children. As such, social media platforms which have not been subject to the same content rules as TV, radio, print and other traditional news sources, are facing increasing scrutiny from regulators for their role in the dissemination of content.  They have started to take some action.  In March, Facebook, Reddit, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube issued a joint statement, in which they committed to helping people stay connected during the pandemic while also combating rising fraud and misinformation about the virus.  The result has been a series of blocks around content, most recently including Donald Trump’s false claims about Coronavirus.   

Fortunately, understanding when a scientific claim is true is relatively straight-forward. Take for example, debunking the myth that 5G masts cause COVID-19. This can be fact checked by independent scientists and quickly shown to be untrue.  But news and information can often stray from fact towards opinion. And in a world where we are looking to protect free speech, censorship of unfounded opinions can be a challenge. 

This leads to important questions: What is fake news exactly? What is the difference between fake news and opinion? The debate continues with respect to the responsibility that content distribution platforms have when it comes to curating the content that their users share. No matter where you draw the line, we are all consuming a daily diet of both fact and fiction

And, it’s everyone’s responsibility to spot fake news – a difficult job that is even more challenging for kids. As Covid continues to spread, and with the U.S. presidential elections right around the corner, now, more than ever, is a crucial time to teach your children digital literacy – the right way to consume news. Here are my tips on how to help your child or teen spot fake news. 


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 apps 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”. 

Remember, 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.  Or if you have to share it, do so with clear messaging around your concerns or doubts of the content. 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.

Further reading on online safety and digital wellbeing: 

How can Qustodio help protect your family?

Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Our parental control tools ensure they don't access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.