How can you teach your kids and students to spot fake news?
We know there is a lot of fake news going around, and it’s harder than ever to spot.The things we used to think about spotting fake information — like checking if the website looks legitimate, seeing if there are a lot of likes and shares, even seeing if reputable media sites have picked it up — don't always work anymore.
So what can we do?
First, always encourage them to check other sources. This is called lateral reading. If they see a video online with lots of shares and likes, encourage them to use google and check if other media sites are reporting about it. Have them look both for claims backing it up and to read about claims disputing it. If there are claims disputing the story, read those to understand. The more you read, the more you can make sense of what’s actually going on. Encourage them to actually read the articles, not just headlines. And make sure you’re reading diverse sources — not just news media, but also first-hand accounts from people who are impacted directly.
Of course, you should still teach kids to see if a source seems legitimate at a basic level. Is the website professional? Does the story make sense? Does it fit with other things that you already know about what is happening?
But remember, these things don’t work like they used to, and if they check these boxes, it doesn’t mean it’s real. This might indicate whether something is fake, but it doesn’t confirm it’s real.
With the spread of misinformation online today, quick tricks like checking for a “.org” domain, checking for lots of typos, or seeing if the website is well-designed are not going to work anymore. Great information can come from a small account with a basic website, and false information can come from someone with a lot of followers or a beautiful website.
When we teach kids simple tricks like those, it makes them feel falsely confident in what they’re seeing. 100,000 likes? A pretty website? A .org domain? No typos? They’ll think that it must be true. But that doesn’t mean it is.
Showing them examples where these types of “tricks” lead them wrong can actually help them be more careful in the future. For example, find a video on TikTok with a lot of likes, but that is promoting information that isn't true. For example, some of these videos might claim to be happening now when they're actually from many years ago (or even from a video game!).
Look up the author. Read about the source. Check more trusted sources.
Listen to the people who are most impacted by the stories, not just the news stories themselves. Take all this information in, and only then, can you start to develop a clear picture of what might be happening. And of course, encourage them to be willing to change their minds when they learn something new.
No matter your child’s age, If they’re using the internet, it’s time to start teaching them how to discern what’s real and what’s fake.