Young people today have a lot coming at them. Not only do they have to wrestle with social media, the less pleasant aspects of it as well as the good, it also brings an awareness of news events both local and global.
Some of this can be shocking and is hard to deal with especially if they’re too young to understand it properly. (See a previous article here on how to help them deal with it). Now there’s another issue for them to process and learn about; fake news.
Fake news is when stories that are untrue, or are a distortion of the truth, are posted around often to get people to look at a website, or generate Likes, or some similar agenda to gain popularity or promote something. Fake news can occur when real news strays from fact to opinion and is not completely accurate, often in an attempt to control others’ beliefs or ideas.
Youngsters are very vulnerable to these stories because of the lack of experience that comes with maturity and can therefore be quite naive. Consequently sensational stories can be readily shared around whether they are true or not. So we need to educate youngsters to be aware that not everything they read online is true, and to be vigilant and discerning before they share, to prevent fake news going further and causing either anxiety or possible harm.
A quick search around the web offers several articles to help you do this, the one on Newsround a good example
And the BBC have also produced this reporter game for the youngsters to use.
In general, to help educate youngsters to spot fake news they should be encouraged to:
- Check the URL, whether it’s familiar, they’ve used it before, or whether it has a weird variation on the norm they’ve not seen before
- Examine the source or name of the writer and cross check them by googling them to see if they’re legit, qualified, or renowned for their work
- Also check whether the content has been reported elsewhere and cross reference it that way to see if it is genuine
- Check if the picture looks real and whether it has already been used with other unrelated items
- Consider the content carefully; whether it sounds genuine, and what would be the reporter’s reason for writing it (are they just promoting something for example) and when it was posted
It’s often the case that youngsters are discouraged from having an opinion or challenging things they read, especially in mainstream education where time is short and agendas are tight. They are taught to accept and comply rather than question.
But if we are going to arm them with the skills needed to spot fake news then they need to be encouraged to question, investigate and be discerning about the stuff they see online. And understand that they have a choice about believing it or passing it on.