How to teach your child to spot fake news

Fake news (or disinformation) is often used to mislead us about politics, health, the environment and other important aspects of our lives.

Its impacts have been particularly harmful during the pandemic. 

In the past, our main sources of news were subject to strict codes of conduct. However, social media has allowed anyone to share content online while abiding to few, if any, editorial standards.  

As social media platforms become go-to sources of news across the world, teaching your child to think critically about fake news and misinformation is essential.  

Here are a few tell-tale characteristics of fake news/disinformation to share with your child.  

 

Check the website address 

Does your child notice something weird about the URL or web address?

Sites that spread fake news/disinformation often use domain names that are similar to those of trusted news outlets, but have slight spelling changes or errors.  

 

Check the source 

Click into the story and take a closer look at the site. Is there anything on the site that proves that it’s a credible source?  

If you don’t recognise the site, check its ‘About’ section or find out more about the author.

What sources, if any, do they use to back up their claims? Are those sources reliable? 

 

Look beyond the headline  

Headlines are designed to shock us and grab our attention, but they don’t tell the full story.

Ask yourself and your child: is the headline exaggerating the facts? 

In many cases, headlines for fake news/disinformation are written in all caps and use exclamation marks – making them easier to spot.  

 

Accept that images aren’t proof 

Remember: any photo or video can be easily edited or used out of context.

Many sources of fake news/disinformation also use sophisticated videos called deepfakes to falsely claim a person has said or done something.  

Examine these images critically before believing a story. 

 

Going viral doesn’t mean it’s true 

The fact that thousands of people might have shared a story doesn’t make it true.

Fake news/disinformation is designed to provoke strong emotional reactions in us, which increases our likelihood to ‘share’ it immediately. 

When you encounter a story that provokes outrage, disbelief or excitement, do your research before sharing the content.  

 

Consider your biases 

As humans, we tend to believe things that confirm our own views of the world.

Are your biases clouding your judgment of the information?  

As social media algorithms track our interests and activities, they will also learn to provide us with similar content – regardless of whether it’s true or false. 

 

Look for any errors or mistakes 

Does the story refer to unidentified ‘experts’? Do the dates in the story seem dubious?

Are there typos or strangely written sentences? These are common signs that the story could be false.  

 

Is it satire? 

Many sites write fictional accounts of current events to make us laugh. However, the line between satire and fake news isn’t always clear.

Before accepting the story as truth, look at the website. Is it known for parodies and comedy? 

 

Verify it with trusted sources 

Are any reputable media outlets covering the story you’ve seen online? Can you find any credible evidence for its claims? If you can’t, it’s likely false.  

Need some further guidance on fact-checking disinformation?

There are numerous trustworthy resources in Ireland and further afield, such as SnopesFactCheck NIMedia Literacy Ireland and TheJournal.ie’s fact check 

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