Teaching kids to spot fake news

Do you know how to spot a fake news story from a genuine one online?

It’s not something we needed to learn when were were growing up. There was the nightly news on one of the four TV channels and maybe a newspaper on the kitchen bench. Information always came from trusted sources.

Today, anyone can publish something online and with that comes a deluge of misinformation, fake news and biased reporting. Therefore, it is imperative that kids of today learn how to analyse and question everything they read online.

Here are some simple tricks to help them identify fact from fiction.

Look at the quality

Words in all capitals, spelling mistakes, clickbait headlines and unaccredited images, these are all signs that the story is fake. Also, look at who wrote it; a professional in their field is likely to be a more reliable source of information than a social media influencer!

Check a reputable source

Cross reference the information with a reputable news site. News sources specifically aimed at children are a great resource (ABC’s BTN and BBC’s Newsround). Fact checking sites such as snopes.com and factcheck.org are good for cross checking trending information. For general facts, jump onto the library website (library.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au), where you’ll find links to a range of free online resources such as atlases and encyclopaedias.

If a news story sounds untrue, check it on Google to see if it is cropping up elsewhere, or if someone has already commented elsewhere on its lack of credibility.

Get to the bottom of the story

Just because something has been shared on social media numerous times doesn’t mean it’s true. If something looks suspect, track down the story to its original source. If it has been reposted, it doesn’t always mean its fake, but it’s always worth identifying the original author.

Research the site

Google the site’s name and read other stories on the site to see if they are from a reputable source. Have they been accused of publishing fake news before? Read the site’s About Us page and check out any other brands that are associated with it.

Check the URL

Check for strange URLs. Even for those sites that may seem to have a trustworthy name, double check the ending. Those with endings such as .co could be trying to be emulate a legitimate site.

Opinion vs fact

Look for signs of opinion or fact. Fact is backed up with stats and expert comment, while opinion is an author’s assertion. 
Help your child spot the difference between the two.

Use alternative sources

It’s important that children experience the different formats of information – digital and print. Pick up a reputable newspaper, head to the library and learn to source reliable information in various ways.

Make it everyday

Our kids come into contact with news every day, so rather than trying to hide them away from the online world, equip them to be online savvy. Teach them to be skeptical not cynical, and to always trust their instincts. Does it sound ridiculous, or too good to be true? It probably is!

It’s never too early to start!

Children are consuming media from a very early age, so encourage them to be critical thinkers from the get-go. Ask questions when you are sharing a book, chat about fact and fiction and how stories can vary depending on who is telling them. Visit the eSafety website (esafety.gov.au) to find information for all age groups. With games, activities and information, it’s the one stop shop for learning about all aspects of online safety.

By Karen Gawen, Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council


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