In today’s digital era anyone can post any type of content online at any time. With a bit of strategy and some luck, the news can go viral. Racking up millions of views, likes, and shares is great and a dream for many of us. Fake news, often emotional and incendiary, is no exception to this rule. Teaching your children how to spot fake news will help them develop the skills necessary to discern between what is real and fake. They will also develop fact-checking and critical thinking skills.
What Is Fake News?
Fake news can be defined as any information presented as news or facts but lacks editorial standards and accuracy checks. It’s important to note that fake news isn’t news you disagree with. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t make it fake.
While we focus primarily on tech on this blog, fake news isn’t contained to just internet sources. It can be found in written news, nightly broadcasts, and conversations.
It’s important that children understand what fake news is and how to spot it. Part of this is teaching children how to find and use reputable news sources.
How To Spot Fake News
Fake news has made its way online in a big way. Tech giants such as Google and Facebook have had to rise to the occasion to help filter out inaccuracies. However, their efforts are not enough and it’s our job as parents to help teach our children how to decide what is true and what isn’t.
Question The Source
News can come from anyone at any time. It’s important to consider the source of the information. It’s easy to build a website that looks like a legitimate source. With a bit of talent, a bad actor could create a site that mimics leading outlets like CNN and ABC News. Kids should be shown how to check the About and Contact Us page. If you navigate to a site that looks reputable, but the only contact is a Gmail address that should raise a red flag. Many news publishers will list their writers and include a bio, headshot, and sometimes an email address. Again, if any or all of this is missing another red flag should go up.
Children can also use other online sources that are committed to tracking down rumors. Sites such as Snopes.com maintain a list of known fake news sites that can be helpful when looking into a source.
Check The Author
Look for bylines for each story. The byline will provide the name of the author and are commonly found between the headline and article text. Some bylines might be shown at the bottom at the end of the piece. Take the time to dig around and find the author. Click through to the author’s bio page and see what it says. If they claim numerous awards, such as the Peabody award, then go to the official award website and check to see if that author actually won. Prior Peabody award winners going back to 1940 can easily be found.
Missing bylines or obvious false bylines should be seen as another indicator that the news source may be less than honest.
Read The Article
A hallmark of fake news is using language that is designed to get you excited. You’ve likely seen these headlines. “The President Bans the Pledge of Allegiance” or “Man Trains 100 Dogs to Steal Groceries”. These are obviously wacky headlines and should raise a few eyebrows. As parents, we might see through these but kids don’t yet have the skills and knowledge necessary to fend off fake headlines.
Parents should coach their kids that headlines are written to draw us in and engage the reader. No one wants to read about a dog that knows how to sit. Write about a dog that can do backflips and read a paper, however, and that might catch some attention. Reading into the article, even if just a few paragraphs, can give a reader a good idea if the content is real or if it’s fake.
It’s also helpful to read into the article and check out some of the sources the author used. Do they go to legitimate sources or are they linked to bogus sites? If the latter then it’s important to recall a data science saying:
Garbage In, Garbage Out
What Are Your Biases
This might be a topic for teenagers, but teaching children about biases will help them spot fake news. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out facts that confirm our position. For example, if I believe that chocolate ice cream is a new weight loss trend I will seek out news that confirms this. I’ll also be more likely to avoid or ignore sources that say otherwise. Alas, I wish that was a true statement as my ice cream consumption would skyrocket, but it is simply false.
If an article catches your attention and seems to go against what you think or believe don’t discredit it right away. Do some digging around online and see if you can find any support for the claims. Also check out other articles on the website that broke the news. Do other articles seem outlandish as well? If so, yet another red flag goes up.
Ask An Expert
The internet contains TONS of information. You would need a full-time job to fact check everything you see in one day online. It’s helpful to consult with experts from time to time. Thankfully, sites such as FactCheck.org and Snopes.com exist to help.
Spend some time on these sites researching your question. If you can’t find a helpful answer you can always ask a question of their fact-checking team. If you have a question odds are someone else has the same problem. Ask and you are likely helping out more than just yourself.
We’ve written at length on Nerdy Dads about how technology benefits children. While the internet has many upsides, the rise of fake news is not one of the bright aspects. Teaching our children how to spot fake news will ultimately make them well-informed young adults and critical thinkers. Even if they have to come across opinions that contradict their own, knowing how to research facts will help them decide what is real and what isn’t.