News

03 February 2021

How can we teach kids to spot fake news online?

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There’s a lot going in the world right now and over the last few months we've seen a number of concerns raised about false information being spread online. There’s never been a more important time to talk to kids about fake news. Use our advice and tips below to help.

It’s important to have regular conversations with your child about staying safe online, and Safer Internet Day (February 9th) is a great time to talk about something different. This year the theme is ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in the online world’.

The internet is full of amazing opportunities for us to learn and share our knowledge with other people but it’s not always easy to separate fact from fiction.

Fake news, misinformation and disinformation – what does it all mean?

Fake news are stories that are created to make someone believe something that isn’t true. Anyone can create fake news which makes it hard to stop false information from being spread.

Fake news is an example of misinformation or disinformation. Misinformation is where false information is shared by accident without the intent to cause harm. For example, sharing inaccurate photos, quotes or dates online because you believe them to be true.

Disinformation is false information shared deliberately to mislead and cause harm. For example, fabricated news stories and political propaganda.

Here are some examples that children might come across:

• Fabricated or false news stories about current news that might make a child feel worried or scared about what’s happening in the world.


• Viral messages containing false information can easily be shared on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger. A person might be more likely to believe it because it’s been sent by someone they know.


• Challenge videos shared on platforms like YouTube and TikTok. The more outrageous or unbelievable a video is will often mean more views and exposure for the creator. Sometimes challenge videos will be heavily edited to make it look like the video creator did something risky or dangerous. These types of videos are often called ‘Deep fakes’ and look very realistic.

 

• Influencers advertising products or competitions on their social media accounts or via direct messages. Influencers and celebrities often use social media platforms to promote products in exchange for money. These products will sometimes contain false claims or the influencer won’t state that they’ve been paid to promote it.


• Meme accounts have become popular as a way of quickly spreading unverified facts amongst young people on apps like Instagram.


• Opinions being shared by people your child follows online as though what they’re saying is fact.


• Abusive comments on social media platforms or forums that might contain false allegations about someone your child knows or follows online.


• Online videos contain upsetting or shocking content.


• Scam emails or messages sent to a personal device asking you to provide personal information or contain blackmail demands. Sometimes these will be made to look like they’re from credible organisations or businesses.

 

It can be difficult for both adults and children to always know whether something they’ve seen online is true. So it’s important to encourage your family to talk and ask questions about what you see.

Help your kids distinguish between what is real and what is fake by following our tips below.

 

Top tips

Tell your child to look at something they see online twice before they share or comment on it. Encourage them to ask questions about what they’ve seen and think about whether there’s a chance it could be fake.

Helping them stay up to date with what’s going on in the world is a good way to encourage them to question what they see online. Newsround has lots of resources that explain current affairs and world issues in a child-friendly way. They also have a great quiz called Real or fake that will take your child through some news examples and ask them to decide which are real and which are fake.  They could also use fact checking sites like Full Fact, or Snopes.

When they see something online, remind them to check the source. Did it come from someone they trust or a news platform they’ve heard of before?

Be aware that there are sites that have been specifically set up to share fake news. Normally if information is true, it will be covered on a few online platforms so look for information from verified accounts, or reputable organisations like the NHS.

Some people will create fake accounts on social media to spread false information. Tell your child to check the account of the person who posted it. Often these types of accounts will have a strange username and would have been created recently.


It’s important to remember that just because someone has lots of followers it doesn’t mean what they’re saying is true, and you should always make sure to do your own research.

Encourage your child to come to you, a teacher or someone else they trust if they see something online that confuses them. Remind them that it’s always ok to ask questions if they’re unsure whether something is real.

Taking part in online challenges can be a great way for your child to enjoy and explore the online world. However, there are some challenges that promote dangerous behaviour and might encourage a young person to behave in a risky way.

Because of this, it’s really important to talk to them about the dangers of recreating videos they see online. Explain to them that not all videos posted online are real, and some might have been edited to make it appear someone has done something when they haven’t.

Encourage them to think carefully before they decide to recreate any online challenge. Remind them that they should never recreate a task or challenge that involves doing something that could hurt them or someone else.

Make sure your child knows how to report on their favourite video sharing app in case they come across a video that upsets them.

Show your children where they can go for more help and support if they see something online that upsets or worries them, such as on our Childline website or our NSPCC website.

If your child shares something that’s not true online by accident they might come to you upset or embarrassed. If this happens explain to them that it’s ok and it can happen to anyone. Remind them that fake news can be made to look real and it’s not their fault.

 

Make sure they know how to delete posts on their favourite app and tell them to come to you if they’re ever unsure about anything in the future.

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