There’s little doubt you’ve had to up your game this year when it comes to monitoring your kids’ screen time. Besides the basics — What are they doing? Who are they chatting with? Is that game age-appropriate? — here’s one that’s equally important: Can your kids or students recognize fake news?
A Big Problem
Common Sense Media reports that almost half (44%) of kids age 10 to 18 can’t tell fake news stories from real ones, and a third (31%) who shared a news story online said that they later found out it was wrong or inaccurate.
A study conducted by Stanford University had alarming results as well. More than 80% of middle-school students couldn’t tell the difference between a real news story on a website and an ad that was labeled “sponsored content.” With the continued proliferation of social media, the problem may only get worse.
“Kids today get most of [their] information from social media, and as we all know there is a lot of misinformation being shared on these platforms,” Diana Graber, digital literacy expert and founder of Cyber Civics and Cyberwise, tells Parentology.
Today, anyone who has access to a computer or phone can publish and share “news” online. That’s why, Graber says it is important for kids to be taught how to verify the information they encounter.
“We are already seeing the consequences of a whole generation not learning these skills,” Graber explains. “There is so much divisiveness in our country right now, partly because we are operating with different sets of ‘facts’ and a lot of people are making important decisions based on misinformation. That is so harmful to society,” she says.
Teach Them When They’re Young
It’s never too early for children to start learning how to become savvy consumers of online media. Graber recommends teaching kids how to spot fake news the moment they start going online.
By helping young children understand that not everything they see online is true, you will be laying the groundwork for more advanced critical thinking skills. They’ll need these skills to evaluate the accuracy and trustworthiness of everything they see on their social media feeds and the Internet as they get older.
Here are some ways you can get students in elementary school (or even younger) to start thinking critically about media and learn how to recognize fake news.
Question Everything Together
Take time to look online with your child. If you come across something that looks questionable, use that as an opportunity to teach by example.
Graber suggests first pointing out the dubious information and saying something like, “That doesn’t look right.” Or “I wonder who wrote that?” and then showing your child how you investigate the content. She recommends doing a Google search on the author or checking out what others have written about the same topic.
“The point is to demonstrate to your young child that you don’t automatically believe everything you see online,” she says.
You and your child can search for clues that may indicate the content is biased or unreliable. Some of the telltale signs of fake news include:
- The words “paid for by” or “sponsored content”
There are probably ads on a site your kids are already using. Help them distinguish between the site’s content and the paid advertising. Talk about why the ads might be there and who gets paid when you click on them.
- URLs or site names that seem a little odd
Most website URLs end with “.com”, “.net”, “.gov”, “.org”, or “.edu.” If additional letters, like “.co” for example, appear at the end of the URL or if the site name looks similar to a familiar site, kids should be suspicious that the site is trying to mimic a legitimate website.
These sensationalized headlines and images are created to make you want to click on a story and may lead to unreliable content.
- Questionable author or publisher
Look carefully at the author’s byline and credentials or check out the publisher or sponsor of the information to determine if it’s a reputable source.
- Lack of references or evidence to back up claims
Legitimate news always provides sources and cites trustworthy research, such as studies conducted by non-profit institutions universities.
Is It True or Is It CRAP?
For kids who are a little older and ready to think about media more critically, there are a variety of checklists available to help them evaluate the accuracy and credibility of online news sources. They include the CRAP and CRAAP Tests, the CARS Checklist, and the ABCDEs of Website Evaluation. (Links listed below.)
Many of these checklists include principles of the “crap detection test,” a term coined by Howard Rheingold, author of Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Rheingold defines “crap” as “information tainted by ignorance, inept communication, or deliberate deception.” He challenges kids (and adults) to ask probing questions about the author, purpose of the information, and credibility of sources as they evaluate the trustworthiness of a website.
Open a Second Tab While Reading
Another way you can help your kids determine if news is credible is by encouraging them to open a second tab at the same time on their browser to investigate the topic further. This is called lateral reading, and it is what professional fact checkers do to verify information.
A recent Stanford University study found that students who left the original site to verify who the author is, what other sources say, and what the evidence is, were better able to accurately determine if a site was trustworthy.
Resource Links for Spotting Fake News
How to Recognize Fake News for Students — Sources
Diana Graber, author, media literacy expert, and founder of Cyberwise.org and CyberCivics.com
Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning. (2016) Stanford History Education Group.
Students’ Civic Online Reasoning. (2019) Stanford History Education Group.
Common Sense Media
Crap Detection 101
Common Sense Media – How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to be Media Savvy)
Common Sense Media – Do Tweens and Teens Believe “Fake News”?