I am sure you know that online fake news is a problem. What you may not know is that our kids, the “digital natives,” have no clue how to tell real news from fake news. Deciphering between legitimate and fake news is a skill that is not being taught to our kids. If our kids don’t learn this imperative skill soon, the future may be making crucial decisions based on bad information.
Last fall, researchers at Stanford released the findings of a study on fake news and middle school, high school and college students. The results of this study are jarring. Through this study, it was overwhelmingly clear that students are being duped online.
The study uncovered that students mistook pictures that they see online as fact, don’t understand that “sponsored content” is a paid ad, and are unable to identify activist accounts from neutral accounts. Over and over the different age groups demonstrated that they are not savvy about the information they find online. (You can read more about this study here.)
Teens are getting their news updates from social media. However, they are not savvy enough to tell faction from fiction or an ad from an actual news post. My daughter is like any other middle school kid. She likes to get her news from the Discover page on Snapchat. Great. Even at school, my daughter has not received any guidelines about staying away from fake news. I asked my daughter how she finds her current event articles for school. She replied, “I just Google ‘current events’ and then pick an article that was recently posted.” Uh, ok. I asked if she was concerned about making sure she was looking at a legit article, and she said that she had not thought about it.
Anyone anywhere can publish content to the internet. Because of this, everyone with a screen and internet access must be savvy about what they read to separate fact from fiction. I tell my kids all the time – just because it’s on the internet does not mean it is true.
So what can you do, as a parent, to teach your kids how to be smart about what they read online? Run through this list of fake news “red flags” with your kids. Show your kids examples online if you can. The more informed kids are about what to look for, the better they will be at determining fact from fiction – on and off line.
Look at the site address (URL) and the site name.
Do you see typos and grammatical errors? No one is perfect, and you will see typos and grammatical errors on very credible news sites. This is not what I am referring to. Errors on fake news sites will be glaringly obvious like typos and grammatical errors in the titles. These sites just want you to click on the image to find out more. They are not concerned about quality, obviously.
Are the news stories accompanied by sensationalist pictures?
Usually, fake news sites are getting paid for every click to their site. To get lots of clicks, these sites will try to get you to click through by posting crazy pictures. Shocking pictures of women in bikinis and weird medical conditions are among the favorites used by fake news sites. If the picture makes you do a double-take, dig deeper into the source of the information.
*Pro Tip – You can right click on the picture and select “Search Google for Image.” In the search results, look to see if the picture shows up with other unrelated news articles.
Are there any supporting sources?
Most news articles will site their sources directly in the article. If you cannot find a reference to any sources in the article, you may want to look on Google to confirm the story. Additionally, if there are sources listed, you can quickly double check the source on Google to determine if it is a real or fake source.
Is there an “About” section on the site?
Fake news sites don’t want you to know anything about them. Legitimate news sites will tell you all about their company, writers, and leadership. If you aren’t able to find any information about the company or person that runs the site, you may want to move on.
Is the title of the article informative or emotional?
Do you feel a strong emotion after reading the title? Is there a compelling feeling to click or share the alarming article? Generally, mainstream news organizations will have neutral, informative headlines. Fake sites will have headlines that are scandalous and emotional.
Are mainstream news sites covering this topic?
If you come across a news article that is not from a mainstream news organization, take a second to check the topic on Snopes.com or Google. You can also check other mainstream news organizations to see if they are mentioning this news. Additionally, it is always good practice to read a few different articles on news and controverisal topics to get different viewpoints and details.
Are you reading from a satire site?
There are some well know satire sites like theonion.com that get tons of shares on Facebook. These sites are meant to be funny, but can appear as real news organizations. A quick Google check of the name of the site will reveal if it is a satire site. Sharing is caring, but before your share that controversial post, double check to see if it was meant to be satirical not real news.
While our digital native kids know their way around a phone or tablet like pros, that does not mean that they are savvy enough to spot fake news online. Talk to your teens and tweens about these tips to identify fake news, and you will be teaching them a life skill. The online world is not going away, so we need to give our kids the right tools and skills to navigate online information with a critical eye.
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