Did you know that the average life of a fake news site is 250 days? With enough traction, that fake news potentially has enough time to collapse economies and reduce a person’s hard-built reputation to shambles. In 2019, fake news is dominating our social media feeds and even our newspapers and televisions. Creators and propagators of fake news meticulously craft headlines and content to ensure that it’s difficult and sometimes even impossible for adults to differentiate between what is true and what isn’t. The problem now takes a whole new dimension as children and teens are being inundated with fake news.
When it comes to children and teens who use social media frequently, constant exposure to fake news can affect their ability to think critically or develop an unbiased perspective. This not only affects their view on politics, economy, entertainment and philosophy, but also affects personal relationships. It has therefore become crucial for children to be trained on how to examine information critically before jumping to conclusions.
We hope this guide can help your children - and you! - identify and avoid fake news.
Why does fake news become popular?
Fake news has been around for as long as humans have been around. It is human nature to propagate content which validates our biases. The problem is that with the advent of social media, more fake news can be created and shared with more people instantaneously. Worse, with bubbles and echo chambers created by our own personal preferences and social media algorithms, our biases are reinforced and amplified. With the massive influx of news content we are exposed to these days, it becomes even easier for individuals to indulge in propaganda.
While the ideal solution to the problem lies in improving the ethics of the internet as a whole, that’s out of our personal control. What we can do is equip ourselves with the resources to analyze the news… and teach our children to do the same.
The importance of differentiation for our children
Social media algorithms work to display posts you are more likely to engage with. Ultimately, a social media platform’s aim is to make you come back for more news/content. Therefore, complex and intuitive algorithms are at work to ensure that you’re exposed to content that you’re more likely to enjoy. When it comes to news, we instinctively prefer content that validates our own opinions. As a result of both these facts, we develop a virtual safe space which agrees with our specific views.
However, what good is validation based on fake news? It is only when we understand the unbiased, unvarnished reality that we can create well-rounded perspectives.
Bombardment of news - fake or not - on your children’s newsfeed can naturally make them feel overwhelmed. It’s sad that children and teens spend close to 9 hours per day consuming content on social media and other platforms. It is sadder that a great deal of that content is fake or inappropriate news/content. Considering that they are the decision makers of tomorrow, it becomes crucial for them to understand the real state of the world today, and learn how to tell authentic news apart from fake news.
How to identify fake news?
1. Check the source
When you see a post with a surprising claim, check the source. If you are redirected to a blog post or web page bearing the news, look beyond that page. Investigate the website and, more importantly, their contact information to see if the website is legitimate. Google the website itself.
2. Check with multiple sources
Check to see if the same news has been reported by other sources that you know are legitimate and unbiased. The likelihood that a piece of news is genuine increases with the increase in number of news sites reporting the same information. You can also check the news on fact-checking sites like snopes.com.
3. Check the whole story
The anatomy of fake news: clickbait headline, loosely framed content, explicit bias. The clickbait headline lures in the audience. So how do you beat the fakery? Visit the webpage and read the entire article, or watch the entire video. Do not believe any article that you’ve not read in its entirety. If anything seems fishy, click away - the information might be misrepresented or fabricated. Writers often stuff articles with links to other articles, in order to improve credibility. When the sources are legitimate, that’s great! Check out at least a few of the source links within the article. If you see real sources, that adds a layer of authenticity to the overall story.
4. Check the author
Some people are openly prejudiced about their views and preferences. Their Twitter bios or blog intros blatantly declare their partisanship! If an article is written by such people, read opposing views before you decide to believe - and certainly before you spread that article around. Of course, some are not so accommodating and hide their biases. To be safe, gather information about the credibility of the author before trusting anything they write. If everyone were to take this one simple step, most of our world’s fake news problems could be avoided.
5. Check the date
Sometimes, the news is real, but hopelessly out of date. Old news and images make a comeback, without any context. Check news and confirm the date it was published before sharing it around.
6. Check your own biases
We are sometimes blinded by our own biases. Look beyond, to think critically about everything you come across online. Remember that the big picture is more important than your personal notions and biases. Keep an open mind when looking at information. Study all angles and perspectives before allowing the new input to influence your opinion about critical issues.
Although social media giants have begun to own up to their platforms being used as a platform for the propagation of fake news, especially around major political moments, it seems the epidemic is unlikely to stop in the near future. It is, therefore, imperative that you and your children empower yourselves to separate the fake from the real, responsibly. All the best!
Writing credit: Authored by Suren, the co-founder and CEO of Mobicip, and a passionate advocate for mobile learning and Internet safety. Suren speaks or hosts panels at conferences and seminars on these topics for parents and educators. He also serves as a consultant for educational technology projects in K-12 schools and school districts.