Inspiration

Teaching Your Kid to Spot Fake News

Educating your children on real versus fake news can feel daunting. But with news generated faster and across more platforms than ever before, it’s a skill your children need.

We live in an age of information. And with the advent of mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic resources, that information is at our fingertips. No more the doorstop-thickness encyclopedias and trips to the library to skim through yesterday’s paper. 

But as information becomes ever more available, that also means that younger and younger children have access to it. As of 2020, the average child owned their first phone by age seven and spent as much as three hours and twenty minutes on it per day. 

That’s a lot of time online for age seven, and between social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, there’s all kinds of news and information doing the electronic rounds. 

It also means fake news and misinformation are ever more prevalent. And telling the difference between real and fake news can be challenging. Since only a quarter of adult readers rarely trust the news they read, how can young people process it? 

Define Your Terms

Internet-savvy children are liable to be news-conversant as well, so there’s a high probability they’ve heard the term ‘fake news’ bandied about by adults they trust. 

That doesn’t mean they necessarily know what it means or have the ability to spot it instinctively. One of the best things you can do to teach kids about fake news is clearly define your terms. 

This is particularly important because of the way social media algorithms skewer the news they present readers with and create echo chambers. 

If children are surrounded by their own opinions, you must help them distinguish between fake news and a story they disagree with.  

Ask the Right Questions

Everyone who’s done a turn in an English classroom has heard the five rudimentary questions of news:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why? 

What gets left off the curriculum is the set of questions you must ask when reading a newspaper. 

Who Wrote This?

When trying to spot fake news, remember; A reputable source always attributes its columns and stories. If the article you’re looking at has no author, there’s a chance it’s fake news. 

Is the Source Reliable?

As discussed, there’s a lot of news in circulation. The internet has changed the pace of news such that what happened at noon on Friday is news half an hour later.

That doesn’t mean every source reporting that news is trustworthy. And depending on how the story gets spun, that doesn’t preclude it being fake news, either. 

When assessing a source for accuracy, look at:

  • URLs, especially the ending, and avoid sites ending in .co
  • Grammatical errors
  • Headlines in all caps
  • Author attribution, if any
  • Placement of eye-catching photos above the fold (i.e. immediately beneath the headline)

Who Is This Article For?

Another important consideration when trying to spot fake news is the story’s readership. A reputable source strives to tell a neutral story. But when a writer is reporting fake news, it often acquires a bias. 

That means there’s a specific and typically sympathetic audience in mind. If you disagree with the perspective reported, the bias can be easy to spot. But sometimes, you’ll find yourself agreeing. 

While that positive bias doesn’t necessarily make the article fake news, it’s a definite sign to stop and check the facts. Teaching your children to spot bias in the news they read will help them identify fake from real news.

What Is Missing From This Article?  

But although journalism should put fact before opinion, bias doesn’t automatically make a story fake news. Nor does an expert disagreeing with it. Famously, Richard Nixon denied the Watergate scandal, but that didn’t preclude the veracity of the story. 

Bias in reporting becomes a problem when it actively omits information to make its argument. That means that when teaching children to distinguish between real and fake news, it’s crucial to ask what is missing if anything. 

Check Your Emotions 

Another telling aspect of fake news is its heightened sense of the dramatic. Clickbait headlines and fake news thrive on high-octane sensations that are often disproportionate to the story being told.

Fake news particularly strives to inspire shock, outrage, and indignation. If you find yourself or your children reacting immediately and strongly to a headline, step back and assess it for fake news and misinformation.   

Conclusion

Educating your children on real versus fake news can feel daunting. But with news generated faster and across more platforms than ever before, it’s a skill your children need. 

As you teach your children about fake news, emphasize the value of reliable sources. Distinguish between:

  • Writer bias
  • Misinformation
  • Fake news

And take time to explain that these are not always the same thing. 

To help them recognize fake news when they see it, show them how to tell a reputable source from an unreportable one, paying particular attention to:

  • URL details
  • Headline capitalization
  • Emotive language 

Finally, stress the importance of stopping to assess their emotions when confronted with emotive headlines and language. Remind them that fake news strives to be reactionary and that at its best, journalism is a case of ‘Just the Facts.’ 

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